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Editorial

It’s not funny

/ 12:57 AM April 21, 2016

In their posts on Facebook, supporters of presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte urge the public: “Enough already, he has apologized. Move on!” But there’s confusion as to whether he actually did so—he had adamantly said he wouldn’t—or his people put words in his mouth to contain the damage.

And much damage was generated when, in the course of his campaign, the mayor of Davao City recounted the rape-slay of an Australian lay missionary during a prison riot in 1989 and treated it as a joke. A bad joke, Sara Duterte acknowledged, before adding that as a rape survivor herself, she found nothing offensive in her father’s words. But no, she’d rather not talk about her rape, it was too embarrassing.

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Probably more embarrassing was Duterte’s reaction to his daughter’s revelation: The rape couldn’t have happened, he said, calling her “a drama queen.” And there, in that short exchange, lies the kernel of truth about rape: It’s a personal violation considered so shameful that people would rather keep it a deep, dark secret, or deny it ever happened.

If it still has to be said, we will say it: Rape is not funny. It is the ultimate violation. It leaves a lifelong stigma on the survivor. And contrary to common belief, rape is not about sex, where a woman’s good looks and youthful appeal are cited as so irresistible they could unleash a man’s “natural urges.” It is this thinking that has allowed such jokes as one being “too old, too fat, or too ugly to be raped” to persist. It is the same mindset behind the idea that a woman is “asking for it” when she wears skimpy clothes, is out in the streets late at night, goes off alone with a man, or becomes too friendly with him.

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As that 1989 prison riot in Davao showed, rape is about power and control, with the powerful preying on the weak and helpless. Recall how children, women detainees especially during martial law, domestic helpers in male-headed households, and even men in prison, often find themselves vulnerable to rape. It is a way of asserting control and authority over the defenseless, a very physical and violent invasion of one’s intimate space, as if to taunt the conquered that she had lost control even over her own body.

In war, the rape of women from the enemy camp is meant to demoralize their menfolk who find themselves useless and ineffectual in the one role drilled into them from childhood: protecting their home and family, and especially their women. Indeed, mass rape has become a tool and weapon of war, leaving disease, shame and unwanted children in its wake, destroying lives and families and diluting the bloodline of ethnic groups deemed undesirable. Think ethnic cleansing and the rape camps of Serbian soldiers during the Bosnian war. Recall how the West Pakistani army routinely raped the Bengal women when East Pakistan seceded to later become Bangladesh. Until a western journalist broke the story, each woman kept her rape a grim secret even while she was raising the fairer-skinned child of her rapist—a constant reminder of her ordeal and an immediate cause of her now-pariah status.

In this country, rape brands its survivor as damaged goods, one who should be married off posthaste to her violator since no other men would want her now. For the longest time, only a chaste woman could credibly complain of rape, as women of less sterling character were presumed to have consented to the sexual encounter. This was the presumption of the court when it acquitted the businessman whom Karen Vertido had accused of raping her. How could she have been raped, the defense asked, when she was no naive probinsyana but a smart career woman who was married and therefore no longer virginal?

Fortunately, Republic Act No. 8353, or the Revised Anti-Rape Law of 1997, defines rape as a crime against a person, rather than against chastity, and does away with that presumption. With rape now considered a public crime, anyone, and not only the victim, can file a complaint.

For rape survivors, mending the physical scars of that violent encounter might take some time, but it is the psychological and emotional trauma that could take a lifetime to heal. Lost is the capacity to trust, with most rapes committed by people known to the victims. Gone as well is the desire for intimacy, as the act naturally associated with love now gets associated with violence, force, feelings of helplessness, and often self-doubt, as the victim replays the ordeal in her mind as if to check if she was to blame.

Who then would find humor in rape? And why?

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TAGS: Elections 2016, joke, Rape, Rodrigo Duterte, Sara Duterte
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