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Rape, abortion, and consent

Presidential aspirants were asked, during the one-on-one Boy Abunda interviews, about their views on allowing abortion for those who were victims of rape and incest. While most admitted to the complexity of such a sensitive issue, candidates Isko Moreno and Manny Pacquiao’s statements went viral for how they forced responsibility to the victims, with Moreno saying that they “must learn to live with the consequences of being a victim” and Pacquiao saying “May part ka rin diyan sa bata na nabuo. ’Di naman mabuo ’yan kung sa lalaki lang.”

I had a visceral reaction while watching their statements, which on hindsight made sense because it is the body that remembers. No matter how much you try to repress traumatic memories, ultimately the body will always remember the violence and dehumanization that it went through. Hearing Isko and Manny’s words reminded me of how oppressors speak. Those messages are what reinforced victim-blaming and pushed victims into silence. They will most likely deny that they intended to blame the victim, but the way they worded their sentiments betrayed how they think about rape. First of all, no one in trauma work will ever advise rape victims to “learn to live with the consequences of being a victim.” The original phrase here is to “learn to live with the consequences of your actions,” and this is where Isko revealed that he believes that to be a rape victim is a behavior of one’s choosing. This is similar to Manny’s “may part ka rin diyan,” who somehow felt the need to emphasize that the rapist alone cannot make a baby. This diffuses the responsibility and crime of the rapist even though Abunda had to reiterate that the woman had absolutely no consent (therefore no role) in this matter. Again we see the language that implies that women are responsible for the pregnancy that was forced on them.

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Language influences how we think about a phenomenon. When we say “unwanted” or “accidental” pregnancy, it grossly minimizes the fact that this was forced and violently nonconsensual. When we use the word “unwanted,” then society thinks that the solution is to simply make the woman want it, as is the case when Manny suggested counseling (apparently not so much to help the woman recover the sense of integrity that was taken from her but merely to convince her to keep the baby). When we use the word “accidental,” then we have someone like Isko calling injustice and oppression as simply our “destiny” that we have to deal with. (The last time I heard injustice and violence described as “destiny” was in the time of the US colonization with their “Manifest Destiny.”) These words are not the language of protectors and advocates, much less of leaders. These are words used by oppressors and their complicitors.

At the core of the crime of rape is consent. It is not just mere lack of consent, but a willful disregard and disrespect for the person’s right to give consent. Only free humans can give consent and thus the violation of such a right is essentially dehumanizing. In psychology, the definition of a traumatic event makes explicit mention of sexual violence aside from actual or threatened death because it recognizes that sexual violence is a threat to the integrity of the self which has the potential to pose lifetime damage to the psyche. No, Manny, one does not heal from rape trauma within months. In rape, victims are treated as not-human and used like objects. As such, true healing requires that we help victims recover their personal autonomy and have their rights and consent be completely respected without question. This is where the reasoning of Isko and Manny are not just wrong but retraumatizing. Their views take away the woman’s personal autonomy and right to consent. They are telling victims that they don’t have the right to exercise consent to motherhood. They are telling victims that they must live a life not of their own choosing and completely not of their own doing. Because a man did this to you, you must deal with it. To genuinely move on from trauma is to recover what was taken from you. In trauma work, we respect their right to decide what “moving on” looks like—the perpetrator does not get to have a say.

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For those who are staunchly against abortion, you can defend your views without dehumanizing women and certainly without victim-blaming. Do not celebrate Isko and Manny’s sentiments even if you are “pro-life” as they have done a disservice to your advocacy. Tell them to do better.

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TAGS: #VotePH2022, 2022 presidential candidates, 2022 presidential race, Anna Cristina Tuazon, Boy Abunda, Rape, Safe Space
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