Friday, October 17, 2014

Limiting the Superheroine Potential: The Filipina, Rape, and Victim-Blaming

I had the pleasure of joining the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS) last September 13 at IChill Theater for their monthly meet-up. I am not actually a member of the group (as I'm more of a deist), but since I am an outspoken advocate for rape prevention and survival and against victim blaming and a member of the Facebook page, I was invited by fellow women warrior and blogger, Doc Tess Termulo, to share my insights about this issue. This was right after I went crazy over someone's post about rape. The question accompanying a news story about a girl brutally raped and murdered?

"Sino ang may kasalanan? Yung babae o yung magulang?"


"Who is at fault? The woman (the victim) or the parents (of the victim)."

You can see why I went Carrie White and burned several people in the process of running amok in the FB page. The result was a 45-minute talk on rape.

I went to the IChill Theater after my teaching assistant stint for PRS' Civil Service Review, despite the rain, and despite being broke. My best friend (who should get a camera for events like this) Kris Alvarez went with me, because it's his bestfriendly duties to do so. 

The Maria Clara Effect

What is interesting is how the rape culture in the Philippines is so heavily intertwined with the culture of putting women on the pedestal. Women in the Philippines are expected to be demure, beautiful, conservative, and religious. To be honest, I have no problem with these kinds of women whatsoever. The problem happens when citizens of the Idiot Society believe that women fall outside this criteria of "desired values", then these women are not worth of respect. 

When I did a talk about Violence Against Women early this year, I showed two pictures. One was a woman dressed attractively but conservatively. The other was also an attractive woman, wearing a sexy spaghetti-strapped top which showed the top of her breasts. I asked the audience, a group of about 40 community women, "Sino ang mas ka-respe-respeto?" (Who is more respectful?). These women actually told me that the one showing her cleavage was less worthy of respect... before realizing what they said and taking it back.

Disrespecting women - punishing them - just because they do not fit society's ideals is the why rape victims are slut-shamed and blamed. 
Slut-shaming and victim-blaming are forms of punishments for women who do not conform with the standards of society. 

Theories of Rape

(WARNING: Nerd Mode. This is a summary of some of the theories of rape, found in the Harvard Law website)

To be perfectly blunt, victim-blamers are some of the least compassionate and least helpful concoction of cells I know. Honestly, did they even evolve? 

Truth is, some people say rapists and victim blamers do. There is actually a very strong support for the Biological Theory of rape. This theory states that rape has evolutionary roots. According to the Biological Theory, men rape in order to increase the chances of passing on their genes. Women have social and biological bases of turning down mates. A woman in a cultured, humane society can choose sexual partners based on her pre-set criteria. She may choose intelligent, financially-stable men over their less attractive counterparts. Men and women are also biologically-wired to find the most compatible mate. This means less sex for less desirable men. 

Unfortunately, this theory is being used by many some people to blame women who were raped. They believe that it is only natural for men to rape women, so women must not do anything to incite men's predatory nature. But then, as stated by the proponents of the this theory, "Natural isn't always good." At the end of the day, it's about what is good, not what is natural. 

In light of the nature versus nurture argument of why rape happens, another very interesting insight is the Commodification Theory of rape. This is quite applicable in the Philippines, as the country has a hypocritical culture when it comes to sex. In the commodification theory, it is stated that sex has become so commercialized. You can buy sex - in pornography and prostitution, for instance - and sex is used to sell products.

In the Philippines, many rabid conservatives equate the status of a woman's hymen to her worth. Others, however, equate sex to a marketing strategy. Yung totoo?

Proponents of the Commodification Theory proposed that since sex is looked at as a product, then the value of sex has been down-graded. Thus, stealing sex - aka rape - is seen by some people as wrong, but not as wrong as, say, stealing a Snickers bar from Mini Stop. Essentially, the  gravity of forcing oneself to someone else is lessened because sex has become something that one could have easily paid for. 

Ad experts: I'm selling beer so I need to plaster 
somebody's boobs with it! Genius! Photo not mine.

This theory also explores the connection of sexual assault and rape to alcohol. Physiological effects of alcohol actually includes lesser sexual stimulation, as alcohol is a depressant. However, one of its many effects is lowered inhibition. Studies further supported the Commodification Theory suggested the correlation of theft, rape, and alcohol. It was found that there is a significant correlation of alcohol with theft as well as rape. 

The Developmental Theory of rape focuses on the rapists. It suggests that rapists mostly came from harsh backgrounds wherein violence is a common occurrence. This may have an interesting correlation to the the Rape as a Gender-Based Hate Crime Theory which proposes that rape is done not for sexual gratification but simply fueled mysoginistic tendencies. If one analyzes these two theories, it may be that in a culture where women are treated as second-class citizens and are thus violated physically, emotionally, and financially, there can be the cultivation of rapists-to-be because the violence against women becomes ingrained in people's developmental milestones. 

Another popular theory is that rape is not about sex but about control. The Control Theory of rape. This is a very interesting theory, one which is especially applicable in our country, a land battered by major storms and disasters each year. Many Filipinos who have been victims of these disasters have been displaced from their homes. Lives and properties have been lost. Essentially, control is lost. People who have lost control of their lives may want to reclaim control by controlling someone else. This theory explains why sexual abuse, forced prostitution, and rape occur in the aftermath of humanitarian crises.

Victim Blaming - Limiting the Superheroine Potential

Rape victims suffer all kinds of physical, mental, social, and emotional trauma, and the path of victim to survivor is not easy. This is the primary reason why I believe rape survivors have the power of superheroes. This is true for both men, women, and children victims. Rape victims may suffer physical harm such as bruises, lacerations, and sexually-transmitted infection such as HIV/AIDS. They may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and selective amnesia (so yes, it is possible for the victim to forget that he/she was raped). Other mental problems such as eating disorder, hypersexualization, depression, and suicidal tendencies may also occur. To top it all off, victims of rape often treated do secondary victimization. This happens when they are treated by authorities and health professional in a callous manner, almost or directly implying that the attack is the victim's fault. Victims are further traumatised with questions that imply that the fault lies in their actions - their short skirts, their penchant for drinking and the night life, for being in a relationship with their attacker. With all of these aftereffects, one can see why it is so difficult to survive rape. 

In the United States, there are nurses who specialize in dealing with victims of sexual assault called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). These forensic nurses are not only equipped to handle and preserve evidences of sexual abuse, but are also trained with proper communicative skills to ensure that victims are treated well. The Philippines has no such health professional. It is fortunate that The Magna Carta of Women provides for the increasing number of policewomen to handle sensitive cases of rape and sex crimes. A manifestation of such move is the Aling Pulis. It is something that those of us who advocate for rape survival and prevention are happy with, but this is not enough.

Mythbusting Rape 

Since my fellow the speaker, Sir Peter Flores, mythbusted some the historical stuff, I also talked about some of the common misconception about rape, although I'm sure most PATAS members know about this already. Here are some: 

1. The movie monster perspective of rapists. Many people perceive rapists as an unknown figure, shrouded in darkness - someone who would force himself or herself on an unsuspecting victim with brutal force. While this does happen, it is important to note that rapists can come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Sometimes, the violators are known and loved by the victims - friends, lovers, family. 

2. The "puta" image of rape victims. Like rapists, victims also come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Most people from the Idiot Society think that rape victims are victims because they are promiscuous and sexually expressive. This is not true. In fact, most rape victims in the Philippines last year are children. I don't think children can be "putatsing" in any way. Anyone can be raped - the young, the old, the rich and educated, the poor and ignorant, the religious or the atheist, the heterosexual, the transexual, the homosexual. Although some populations are more at risk, one must remember that rape does not discriminate - it's humans who do that.

3. Brutal force is a prerequisite to rape. This is one of the common idea when rape is talked about. Again, this does happen, but sometimes psychological coercion can be just as effective.  One of the people who confided in me was raped by her step-father when she was a teen. The metaphorical knife against the throat? The step-father threatened the girl that he will hurt and leave her mother.

A Cycle of Violence

In a special report done by GMA network, it was revealed that 5,493 cases of rape were reported in 2013. 4,234 of these cases are child victims. Like in all of the statistics I present, I want to emphasize that these numbers are REPORTED. Given the culture of silence in the Philippines, these numbers may be significantly higher.  This culture of silence is strengthened by victim's fear of being ostracized and called names. This is why victims would rather suffer than come out. This is why rapists continue to attack the vulnerable without little inhibitions. By being blaming and slut-shaming victims, members of the Idiot Society are contributing to the cycle of violence. 

In other words, victim-blamers: 

Related articles: 

Author's Note: I would like to thank the following people for this lovely experience. Sharing my insight about something I am passionate about has always been and will always be a wonderful experience: My friend for being my "date" even if he didn't take any pictures of me; Doc Tess Termulo, Sir Ric Caliolio, and the fab Regie Pasion, and all the PATAS members for having me - truly you people are good without God; To Sir Peter Flores - thank you for the impromptu lecture! Sorry I missed your presentation; to Ate Jing Dalagan, for being my fellow woman warrior and for spreading the word about women's rights; and to all the superheroes and heroines who have inspired me to keep on fighting for rape prevention and survival. Tuloy ang laban, mga kapatid.