To believe or not to believe
Gretchen Fullido’s sexual assault claims are not quite the #MeToo revolution Filipino women could have hoped for. Of course there’s no such thing as a “good” sexual harassment claim by a woman. Maybe it’s filed “too late,” like Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations about US Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which were filed decades after the fact. When a case is filed early, like the one against former Stanford student Brock Turner who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, there’s still a disquieting amount of sympathy for the perpetrator, who is branded a sex offender forever.
The claims are so very often undermined: maybe it’s not true; maybe she misinterpreted things; maybe she wants money; maybe she didn’t say “no” loudly enough; maybe she was wearing the wrong outfit; maybe she had too much to drink; why didn’t she speak up sooner. The victim’s character is scrutinized, even slandered. During testimonies, if a woman shows too much emotion, she’s branded as hysterical, unreliable; if she shows too little, she isn’t visibly affected, and is possibly lying, calculating.
All this builds up into a climate of secondary victimization of sexual assault victims that’s more than enough to make a victim think twice about speaking up, and they often don’t: local data on underreporting of rape is limited, but the US Bureau of Justice estimates that only 35 percent of assault victims come forward.
Still, even with this antiquated reasoning and the reprehensible way we treat sexual assault victims, it must be said that we’ve seen the start of a shift in thinking differently about harassment. “Victim-blaming” and “slut-shaming” have found their way into common parlance. For every ignorant “bro” who jokes about being afraid to ask women out these days, there’s a thinking individual who’s learning more about consent and systemic rape culture. It’s hoped that this gradually changing atmosphere encourages more victims to come forward, and that the final outcome is a deterrent against sexist and malicious behavior. So that’s a start… right?
Entertainment reporter Gretchen Fullido filed a sexual harassment case against female ABS-CBN executives last week. According to Fullido, she was the victim of sexual innuendo and requests for sexual favors and “lambingan,” and her work was compromised when she wasn’t in the executives’ good graces; the accused have provided statements and evidence to the contrary.
It’s too complicated to reduce into a landmark #MeToo-type case. The veracity of the accusations is still under investigation. Furthermore, an already complex matter is complicated by the fact that the executives are women, too, and possibly the victim of a “prevailing homophobia” which, according to their lawyer Evalyn Ursua, results in the false and offensive stereotype that “women of same-sex orientation indiscriminately go after any woman or are prone to sexually harass other women.” Men joking about being afraid to be in a locker room with other gay men spring to mind.
Was Fullido a victim of sexual harassment? It’s possible, but anyone’s guess is as good as mine. The legal battle promises to be an interesting, if dispiriting, one that pits women against women. On the one hand, only 2-10 percent of rape accusations are proven to be false and these very rarely lead to convictions or jail time, but they get an overwhelming amount of attention and are fodder for anyone who would treat a sexual assault victim with suspicion and mistrust. This has made it a reasonably good idea to start by believing a woman who claims she has been assaulted. On the other hand, the accusations in Fullido’s case are difficult to prove (as assault often is), with nuances that can be misunderstood or misrepresented by those outside of the workplace.
One only hopes that the whole affair does more good than harm, because a single false or overblown accusation takes us a thousand steps backward. It can halt the momentum that feminism has been gaining in the public consciousness, cutting the legs out from under a #MeToo movement before it’s even begun.
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