‘It’s not my shame’: Why Filipino women are calling out sexual misconduct on social media
(First of three parts in an in-depth series.)
The #MeToo hashtag gained steam in the United States in October 2017 as actress Alyssa Milano urged women to speak up about their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse.
As other countries adopted the hashtag or created a localized version, for the most part, the Philippines was silent. But pockets of stories have surfaced online, with and without aid of the hashtag.
In Metro Manila, it manifested in indie bands being outed on social media for sexual misconduct against women. Some were shut out of gigs, others disbanded. Most bands braved the initial storm of outrage and are still welcome in the scene.
One of the main initiators of the music scene’s call-out was Adrienne Onday, a research assistant from Marikina. In November 2017, then a sociology student at the University of the Philippines Diliman, she started a Twitter thread detailing how musicians use their status to take advantage of women.
An avid fan of OPM, she regularly attended gigs for two years since she was 16. She befriended musicians and wrote her thesis about the music scene. But she also saw another side to them: how they talked about and treated women.
Although she no longer uses Twitter, the public thread is still live where she described the culture of men in bands who would get fans to do sexual favors for them and would “kiss and tell” about their exploits over beer.
She alleged that Farewell Fair Weather’s lead guitarist Kim Hue Jin made sexual advances toward her, which the band on Nov. 23, 2019 labeled as “false accusations.” The band continues to be active in the music community.
While the thread began as her personal call-out of the sexism and misogyny of the music scene, women started messaging her about their own experiences of sexual misconduct. She posted their statements on Twitter at their request.
“I was there when the things I talked about happened, and yet I didn’t have the courage to speak up and call them out on the spot about it,” she told INQUIRER.net. “I was the youngest person in that group of friends, and I was usually the only girl they had with them in many of those moments.”
“What made me decide to talk about this was both the rise of the #MeToo movement, the recognition that a similar effort needs to start here, and the overwhelming guilt I felt about not having spoken up all those years ago,” she explained.
Two years after the 2017 call-out, Bryan*, who was part of an up-and-coming band, was outed for taking advantage of Trish* when she was blackout drunk at a friend’s house in 2014.
Trish, now a 25-year-old field producer and writer from Parañaque, found out about it only months after the incident, when a friend insinuated that she and Bryan were an item because it was assumed that they slept together one night.
Bryan was someone she trusted. “Top-tier, god-tier best friend,” she described him. They attended the same private high school, and for college, both went to a top university in Manila.
By 2017, the band’s following had grown. Weekends were fully booked, and they had the chance to front an international act in Manila.
As much as she wanted to speak her truth during the wave of call-outs in 2017, Trish held back because one of Bryan’s band members, Jake*, was a close friend — one of the few she was able to keep after the fallout between her and Bryan split their group of friends.
Trish traced back the incident to a night when she passed out at a friend’s house after a night at a club.
“Before my friend told me, I did have discomfort. I was really confused about what happened that night. He would say that he was drunk but he drove us. When I woke up next to him, I was confused,” she recalled.
Trish was at a theme park with friends when she pieced together that she had been sexually taken advantage of. A friend teased that she and Bryan had slept together during a party at a house months before. When Trish denied this, she was told that her clothes were strewn across the floor the next morning.
Trish did not want to go to her parents about it. “I just didn’t want to make my family sad,” she said. “Eventually, probably I’ll tell them when I don’t live with them. I don’t want to see them cry.”
She considered taking the legal route, but was told by a lawyer that she did not have enough evidence. She was counting on her friends to support her, but no one seemed prepared to handle the situation.
“If people asked, I would tell them, and then they would stop talking to me,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t believe me because [Bryan and I] were really close. Every day we were together in school, so people would always assume something is going on between us.”
She chose to keep quiet for the peace of the group. But as they pretended nothing was wrong, she drifted away, noticing that she was kept out of their hangouts while Bryan continued to spend time with them.
Among the few who listened to her, one of them became a boyfriend, but the trauma was too much to bear for her. “I had a relationship ruined from it, because I had terrible mood swings. My therapist told me it’s because I had so much anger. I did have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”
Nightmares came more often after she realized she had been sexually taken advantage of. Initially she was in denial, but experiences of sleep paralysis would come repeatedly, to the point that she needed medicine to sleep. “It’s my subconscious telling me to talk to him,” she explained.
After they were no longer friends, they spoke a handful of times about the incident. “I tried to talk to him a year after. He told me, ‘it’s not just you who’s hurting. I can’t even look at my friends anymore.’ At that time, I felt sad for him.”
“His apologies I found were insincere because he would always say, ‘don’t tell people,’ or he said, ‘’wag ka mag-feeling’ (don’t feel as if). I think he really wanted to apologize but he’d always insert that ‘I’m [he is] sad too,’” she said.
“Eventually I realized, why would I feel sad for him? ‘Di ko naman ginusto ‘yan, ikaw ginusto mo ‘yan.” (I did not want that; it was him who wanted that.)
‘People can’t hear me’
When asked about how she believes justice can be served, she said, “Shaming on social media is remotely what he deserves. At the same time, I do think about filing [a case], but I don’t want to put myself through that.”
“I guess I just wanted him to admit to what he did. All this time it’s like people can’t hear me.”
Trish calls the years 2014 to 2017 her “miserable years” — she lost friends and saw that Bryan was still accepted in their circles. Even as she rebuilt herself by going to therapy and finding new friends, the pent-up anger reached its boiling point on New Year’s Day of 2019.
She had been thinking of speaking up on social media when she saw a picture of him and a friend together on Facebook. The friend who posted it was the same person who told her that he could not hate Bryan even after knowing what he had done to her. She admits that it drove her to make a post on impulse.
“For me it was my shame, but why should I keep your secret? It’s not my shame, it’s your shame. Why do I have to carry the burden for you?”
She used her Instagram account to speak up: “I wanted to keep it small. I just want people who know you and me to know.”
Soon, people in the music circuit caught wind of it. Even if the Instagram post was private, screen shots were taken and there was backlash against Bryan’s band. Jake, who helped establish the band with Bryan, met Trish personally in her house and cried.
“He admitted to me that he became quiet and we kind of drifted apart. He apologized to me. He decided he will remove Bryan,” she said. “For me even if you couldn’t do what’s right before, at least you can show the change. If he could have done that, why couldn’t Bryan have done something?”
Call-out as a warning
As far as call-outs go, Camille’s* was relatively tame. In April 2019, she revealed on Facebook that she was sexually assaulted the year before by Kevin*, whom she met on Bumble and went to college with. In her post, she called him a sexual predator, and hoped more would speak up about his behavior on dates.
She did not mention in the post that he raped her in his car on their first and only date. She calls it an “almost rape,” because she was forced to give him a blow job. According to the Anti-Rape Law, forcible oral sex is considered rape by sexual assault.
Her main reason for calling out Kevin was to warn other women, after she found out he had more victims whom she says had worse things done to them.
“I don’t want any more people to go through what I did. No one deserves that,” she said. Before making her call-out, Camille reported his profile to the dating app and it was taken down. But months later, she found out that he was able to make a new one.
Last year, friends called her attention when one of his victims called him out through Instagram Stories. This moved her to make her own post that would be more visible. She reasoned, “I was really upset. No one called him out and it’s been going on since college.”
She did not confront Kevin — her own friends dissuaded her from doing so, saying that he would gaslight her and it could further affect her mental health. Another victim also sent Camille messages to show how he reacted to a confrontation. He was defensive and said he could not have known she was not interested, even after she repeatedly turned down his invitations for her to go to his house.
When Camille told friends about it, they readily believed her, mainly because Kevin had an alleged reputation in his college for raping women. It was then that she realized that silence was dangerous.
“If you think about it, the stories about the guy that go around aren’t stories you hear or see on social media; they’re whispers meant for smaller circles of trusted friends to hear and nothing more but [to] listen to,” she said. “And while I respect that decision, it frustrates me that the guy rides on that kind of behavior, that obviously he’ll keep terrorizing other girls because he can get away with it.”
Culture of silence
Camille noted that Kevin could be targeting women in the Filipino-Chinese community because of the culture of staying silent and shaming victims. Kevin himself is Filipino-Chinese. She admitted that she would not have come forward without the help of her friends because relationships would be affected within the Chinese community.
One friend told Camille “maybe you wanted it” because she did not say no from the start. “Aunties, the minute you tell them your story, they’ll say the same thing,” she said.
Part of the reason she did not speak up right away was that Kevin claimed during the date that he was close to his cousins, who had been her classmates. After the call-out, one of them messaged Camille to apologize and said that she (the cousin) had not spoken to him for a year.
Camille told her mom about the incident prior to talking about it online, but her dad only found out after her post. “He was annoyed. He said, ‘Who’s he related to? Maybe I can tell his uncle.’”
‘Legal action seen as joke’
When asked why she did not press charges, she recounted her negative experience of going through the legal system.
Back in 2014, Camille and a then-boyfriend were harassed by police while they were in a car. The officers tried to extort money from them on trumped-up charges. She said the officers harassed her with their flashlights, pointing them at her legs and other parts of her body. One of them also tried to grab her, which led her to file charges.
The case against the policemen is still pending, and she says that the officers have been using delaying tactics. She said she was fortunate her lawyer was doing it pro bono, but otherwise, “they [policemen] could run you to the ground, they want you to let go of the case.”
In the situation with Kevin, she said that given that he comes from a rich Chinese family, “They’ll feel ashamed but they can throw money to save face.”
“Legal action is seen as a joke. It’s all money. If you don’t have money, what else do you have to lose? Your reputation.”
“Social media is free, masisiraan ka naman, that’s all you kinda need,” Camille explained. “That’s the thing with our culture. We’re so tied with our friends and family. It hurts more if you lose face.”
After the call-out, the women received messages of sympathy and encouragement. Camille said some people offered professional help, while Trish saw a few “vigilantes” defending her in the comments section. But they also faced consequences for speaking their truth.
After her Instagram post, Trish made a Facebook post reiterating why she was speaking up after she noticed that the band’s Facebook page was deleting comments on its posts when the issue would be brought up.
In the comments section, strangers claimed that she was making false accusations because she was supposedly rejected. Friends who were long-aware of the incident messaged her or shared the post. With frustration, she said, “What’s your ‘stay strong’ going to do for me when you weren’t there for me and you knew?”
Camille shared that some guys who knew Kevin messaged to flirt with her, telling her: “You know I’m not like that right? I’m better than that, I’m nicer than that.” There were also some who told her that they tried talking to Kevin, but that he was stubborn about it.
Onday recalled that after the Twitter thread went viral, she received threats which heightened her anxiety: “Verbal abuse, bodily harm even from some of the musicians, and filing of cases were some of what I remember was leveled against me.”
She said she attempted to work with the government to address harassment, but was disappointed at the response of Sen. Risa Hontiveros’ office. “I actually went to their office to talk about it because I knew they were dealing with the Safe Spaces Bill,” said Onday. “And yet they never got back to me.”
Hontiveros authored the The Safe Spaces Act or Republic Act No. 11313, which was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte in April 2019. It penalizes sexual harassment in streets and public spaces, as well as on the internet.
Though there were boycotts of bands that ensued, she said the culture has not changed due to the absence of accountability, noting that some bands even became more “aggressive and misogynistic” after the call-out.
“Bars and productions, from what I know, still haven’t adopted mechanisms to aid in responding to cases of harassment and abuse in the music scene by a musician to another person,” Onday pointed out.
‘Saving more than yourself’
Despite the various negative reactions they received, all three women believe victims still have reason to speak up on social media.
“There is no wrong way to speak your truth, for me, when you’re a victim and the only means available to you is calling them out,” said Onday. “We can’t limit the ways victims respond to their trauma and situations because victims of sexual misconduct are already silenced and invisible as is, and the goal is to get more victims to feel safe and confident enough to talk about what hurt them.”
Trish advised to resolve things in private before calling out, but as in her case, she felt that no one was listening to her, or that the problem was being covered up.
“It does feel good once you’ve said something,” said Trish. “There is a difference with this #MeToo culture and shaming someone. Make sure your allegations are real.”
Trish also urges for legal action “not just to jail them—it’s also rehabilitation.” She noted that it works against victims when the perpetrator receives hateful comments. “You can give your support to someone without terrorizing the perpetrator. I’m not asking you to burn his house down or message him with hate, just believe me.”
Although Camille was at first hesitant to call out, she said, “That wasn’t as hard as I thought. Honestly the moment I published my post, my hands were shaking.”
She advised, “If you know what you’re doing is right and that it can benefit more than just you, then please do it. You’re saving more than yourself here.”
For Onday, calling out “is only one tool in the arsenal” in changing a culture. While she wishes she had gone about the issue differently, she is in the process of “calling in” through offline discussions.
This year, she and a few friends started Usapang Lalaki, a monthly gathering to openly discuss sexism and misogyny in a safe space where men can feel included. The first discussion was about call-out culture.
The forums have gathered between 20 to 30 attendees of both men and women. She explained that these forums help to “address the issue on a deeper level” because it is open not only to women aggrieved but also to men who are willing to raise their awareness. After all, it would be hard if not impossible for a man who is not aware of boundaries to be respectful of these, and to be respectful of a woman. JB
(Coming out tomorrow, part two of this series.)
Editor’s note: The real names of the parties, whenever noted (*), have been withheld per their request.
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