‘It’s a tragedy, but…’
With the terrible death of 23-year-old Christine Dacera, victim-blamers have once again come out of the woodwork. Though circumstances around her death remain unclear and the list of suspects still raises questions, the memory of her is already tainted with appalling comments from strangers. Pinoy observers have been quick to opine that she invited her own demise, in light of the news that she was celebrating the New Year with several men in a hotel room.
It’s a horrid way of thinking, but unfortunately, Christine is far from the first person to be shamed for being a woman hanging out with male friends. This slanted mindset rears its ugly head in the wake of many sexual assault or homicide cases.
What’s worse is, victim-blamers plainly refuse to acknowledge that they are faulting the victim. When Kakie Pangilinan spoke out against it, plenty of nonsensical comments derided her for being young, “pa-woke,” and “nakisawsaw.”
Filipino victim-blaming typically comes under the guise of practicality or “telling it as it is.” It looks like this: “My condolences to the family, but why was she partying with 11 guys in a hotel room?” Or: “It’s a tragedy, but women should learn not to get drunk around men.” There’s also this poor rationalization: “I’m not victim-blaming. I’m just stating facts.”
It takes a special kind of callousness to fault a victim for their own suffering, even blame their family for “letting their daughter out with men,” and then maintain that it’s all just facts. But even setting aside the argument for empathy, it’s absurdly illogical to accept that a woman’s injury is her own fault just because she was out with friends of the opposite sex.
Here are facts: Drinking with the opposite sex is not asking to be harmed. A person in a vulnerable state does not give others the right to take advantage. It does not make crime “understandable.”
I’ve been told that it is naïve to think that women will stay safe when they are intoxicated around men. Boys, they say, will be boys. Natural lang sa mga lalaki. They have “a natural response to stimulus.” According to this reasoning, drinking alone with the opposite sex is indeed asking to be harmed.
As a woman, I am all too aware of this skewed thinking that remains embedded in our culture. “Boys will be boys” is a terrible excuse for hostile behavior. It’s essentially saying that males are hostile by nature and cannot be trusted to maintain decency and saneness.
It’s not even an excuse to say that men have “natural reactions.” That’s like saying men have the same psychological capacity as cockroaches. Humans have mental and moral faculties, as well as social norms and laws, that should deter us from harming others. To act solely on impulse—and proudly justify it as natural—is quite literally inhuman.
To be clear, refusing to victim-blame doesn’t mean we are so out of touch with reality that we ignore the existence of violent perpetrators, that we can just let our guard down. On the contrary, women have a keen sense of fear and frustration from knowing that these perpetrators exist and are able to get away with their behavior.
And that’s exactly why it’s important to speak up about it. The fact that there’s violence surrounding vulnerable persons should make us want to stop that violence, not shift the responsibility to the vulnerable.
It should also be said that it’s not just women who fall prey to this kind of violence. Anyone of any gender can be victimized, and it can be difficult for them to report the violation when they are aware that they themselves would be criticized for their misfortune.
While women usually get faulted for who they were with or what they were wearing, men can be shamed, too, with suggestions like “Why didn’t you fight?” “How could you fail to overpower the suspect?” or “Maybe you actually enjoyed it.”
This is why victim-blaming should never be tolerated: It pushes the victim further into silence while diminishing the weight of the crime and easing the culpability of offenders.
Instead of pointing fingers at victims, we ought to keep the burden on those who committed the offense. Additionally, we must keep an eye on how our laws are being interpreted and enforced to protect us, citizens, from the same violence.
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