A deeply rooted hostility
Despite numerous programs and promises to protect women’s and children’s rights in the Philippines, here we are in July 2020, faced with an ugly reality: Women’s and children’s welfare is a joke here.
One doesn’t have to look far to find proof. The neighborhood catcallers and harassers just pop up by themselves, despite being more than unwelcome. Complete strangers online are quick to shame girls and women based on what they wear. Perpetrators of sexual exploitation are able to conduct exchanges online without much to fear.
But the saddest, most frustrating displays of mercilessness toward girls are those perpetrated by law enforcers—the very people who are supposed to protect the vulnerable.
Our recent jolting reminder of this was the death of a 15-year-old girl in Ilocos Sur, who was gunned down after lodging a molestation complaint against a policeman. Reports say that after she filed her complaint, she felt unsafe and requested a security escort, but was denied.
Investigations have been launched and cops have been slammed, but behind all our outrage, we’re no longer pretending to be in disbelief. As shocking and incomprehensible as this story is, many of us have come to realize that this really happens—that even in the institutions we’re supposed to trust, there is a persisting hostility or savagery against women.
This is far from the first case of gender-based violence involving law enforcers. And even outside the cases of rape, sexual harassment, blackmailing, and acts of lasciviousness—even when official reports downplay the violence or completely sweep it under the rug—there are glimpses of this savagery that peek through that honorable facade every now and then.
Take for instance the infamous victim-blaming Facebook posts from some police stations’ official accounts these past few months. The posts were supposedly anti-rape, but they turned this message around by pointing at women’s choice of clothes. It was clear what those stations believed: that women encourage sexual assault when they wear certain types of clothing.
The fact that this archaic and misguided notion was laid out on social media showed a stubborn culture of pointing fingers at victims, easing the culpability of criminals. This kind of mentality is a major reason victims of rape and abuse are reluctant to speak up. Imagine gathering up the courage to report your sexual assault to the cops, only to be told, “Ikaw kasi, bakit ganyan ang suot mo?”
This mentality persists despite all those trainings and seminars on violence against women and children. Either some policemen learned nothing, or they were fully aware yet proud of their twisted view of victims.
This holds true not only in law enforcement, but in other institutions and offices, public or private, where attempts to educate about women’s rights and welfare are rarely taken seriously.
Even reassurances at the national level aren’t proving material. It was just a couple of weeks ago when the Philippine National Police encouraged us to push complaints against neglectful officers of Women and Children Protection Desks. Yet today, we are confronted by the demise of a young girl who did not get the protection she deserved from the protectors she reached out to.
In the endeavor to defend women’s and children’s rights, any progress made by organizations and advocates is a miracle. It’s turning out to be an incredibly difficult fight, because what they’re fighting is like a deeply rooted disease—one that makes light of transgressions, discourages speaking up, lets protectors turn on victims, and harbors perpetrators in its folds.
We have to keep soldiering on against this disease. There are social campaigns to support, viewpoints to challenge, and behaviors to unlearn. And, as we have just been reminded, there are victims and victim-survivors for whom we should be demanding justice.
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