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Culture of blaming victims hinders rape cases

MANILA, Philippines — Victim-blaming in rape cases is so ingrained in Filipino culture that survivors who press charges face more hurdles under questioning by a prosecutor tasked to assess evidence or a judge presiding at a trial.

“Unfortunately, it is still common with prosecutors, even [women] prosecutors, to have that victim-blaming mindset,” said lawyer Estella Elamparo. In preliminary investigations, questions of why the rape survivor went out drinking or agreed to go with the accused to a motel are customary, she said, adding: “You can already guess the [outcome] of that prosecutor’s resolution.”

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Elamparo, a former state prosecutor and now senior partner at DivinaLaw, was among the panelists in the forum “Together We Resist: Stand Up Against Rape Culture and Victim Blaming” organized online on Tuesday by Thomson Reuters through its [email protected] business resource group. The other panelists were University of the Philippines psychology professor Beatriz Torre and singer-songwriter Frankie Pangilinan.

Thomson Reuters is a news and business information company catering to decision-makers in the legal, tax, accounting, corporate, government and media markets.

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The panelists agreed that leaders—from government officials and court officers to the police and private employers who might deal with sexual harassment cases—must set the tone if the public mindset on rape was to change.

“There is no basis in the law” for dismissive statements made by prosecutors and judges, yet they reflect the beliefs of whose who will “decide whether the rape case would even see the light of day,” Elamparo observed.

Unfair blame

According to Torre, victim-blaming occurs when rape survivors “are unfairly blamed or even held responsible for the crime committed against them.”

The victims are mostly women. But Torre cited a transwoman who, after complaining of being groped, was “reminded” by a coworker that she had transitioned to experiencing sexual advances validating her attractiveness.

Such reactions are “very common” and dangerous because they “could lead to a second victimization,” Torre warned. “After being victimized, traumatized and subjected to psychological distress, if you choose to report and tell other people and the response is disbelief or blame, this can heighten the distress experience and cause a delay in recovery.”

Torre said victim-blaming went “all the way up to the judge,” as shown in court records of judges questioning rape survivors, and their decisions.

“This mindset, if also held by other law practitioners who go on to become judges, will have a lot of impact on how these cases are decided,” she said.

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Respect

Pangilinan, who recently trended on social media for speaking up against a misogynist tweet by radio commentator Ben Tulfo, said that while those who called out their rapists should be lauded, there should also be respect for those choosing silence.

“If you feel you are not brave enough at this point, I think we can only be as brave at any given time as we would want to be. And that’s okay,” she said.

Pangilinan, better known in Twitterverse as Kakie, assailed Tulfo who, addressing her as “hija” (child), tried to defend his position that “sexy ladies” who tempt “the beast” in men get raped.

Using the hashtag #HijaAko, Pangilinan said Tulfo’s “demeaning and damaging” post also showed “to a certain extent how conservative Filipinos think.”

“The Filipino brand of feminism is very different…We are not necessarily seen as weak, but the whole culture of rape revolves around a sense of power, the desire to overpower someone. That’s why men are so much louder, and it’s more dangerous,” she said, adding:

“More often than not, those [women] who dress more modestly get assaulted, particularly because of that power.”

Rape myths

Torre said “dominant narrative stereotypes” of men as sexual aggressors and women as “sexual gatekeepers who resist sexual advances to retain purity” were among the “rape myths” that “perpetuate and justify male sexual aggression to the detriment of women’s rights.”

She said that contrary to belief, “the most common occurrence of rape [is] between people who know each other, perpetrated by people who the victim knows or is already familiar with.”

Torre cited the “Just World” theory that allows people to resort to victim-blaming in order to relieve their discomfort at rape.

Victim-blaming “allows us to distance ourselves from the victim: ‘I am not like her, I know better,’” Torre said. “With the comforting belief that the world is fair, we can explain she deserves what happened to her because she wore the wrong clothes.”

The panelists agreed that “bigger solutions,” more than just rape prevention, would better address the situation.

Elamparo noted that the new safe spaces law expands the list of environments covered by sexual harassment complaints, including public spaces like vehicles, sidewalks, churches, restaurants and malls. The old sexual harassment law passed in 1995 limits cases to those that occur in workplaces, and perpetrators to employers and work superiors.

“We as ordinary people are not entirely helpless,” Elamparo said. “We need to use the platform that we have… The tone comes from the top. If a good example is being set by people at the top, then it trickles down to the rest of the organization… Not just the President or senators but also heads of organizations, employers, management, heads of local government units, the Philippine National Police, Department of Justice.”

Torre said leaders in general should show “respect when victims choose to speak, when they are ready.”

“While it is difficult to listen without judgment and with empathy … it is something we have to practice. It helps if we see and hear of [people in positions of power] able to respond to stories of difficulty,” she said.

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