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Painful Truths of Sexual Harassment

By Kim FerrerNovember 26, 2017

IN THE GENDER Gap Report of 2016, the Philippines ranked seventh among the World’s Best Countries For Women. Despite this recognition, the Philippine Commission on Women’s (PCW) Information and Resource Management Chief Honey Castro said that based on the data by Philippine National Police-Women and Child Protection Center (PNP-WCPC) there were 1,164 reported cases of sexual harassments in the country from January to June 2017 alone.  Although the number may seem underwhelming, Castro said that there are numerous victims who do not report such cases.  One thing is clear: Sexual harassment is happening everywhere.

In recent weeks, sexual harassment has been one of the trending topics online and it seems the “Weinstein Effect” has arrived in the country. There were a series of threads on Twitter wherein victims reveal the pain of their experiences, and call out their perpetrators. What’s more appalling are the names that came up: noted artists, esteemed actors, and members of bands.

“We acknowledge this development and we commend the strength of victims who decided to speak out,” Castro said. She also strongly encourages other women who are victims of any forms of violence to speak up too and ask for assistance, especially from authorities, so that they can have resolutions and move on with their lives again. She sees these motives as warning signs for women to be careful dealing with these sexual predators and also for them to get justice from their perpetrators.

These revelations also serve as an outcry for help, as she thinks most victims are still blindfolded on what to do when these kinds of incident happens. Castro sees the need for everyone to do their homework and research the roots that motivate these women to speak up.

 

Forms of Sexual Harassment

According to Castro, sexual harassment (SH) is broadly defined as unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature which can be verbal, nonverbal, or physical.

Listed below are some examples for each form of SH as defined by the United Nations Women :

 

VERBAL NON-VERBAL PHYSICAL
Whistling or cat calling Staring at someone or looking a person up and down Touching the person’s clothing, hair, or body

 

Making sexual comments about a person’s body Blocking a person’s path Hugging, kissing, patting, or stroking
Making sexual comments or innuendos Following the person or stalking Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person
Telling sexual jokes or stories Displaying sexually suggestive visuals Standing close or brushing up against the other person.
Making kissing sounds, howling, and smacking lips Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements
Making sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy, or looks Making facial expressions such as winking, throwing kisses, or licking lips
Repeatedly asking out a person who is not interested
Telling lies or spreading rumors about a person’s personal sex life

 

Sexual harassment in the Philippines is a criminal offense.  Though SH has many forms, existing laws only cover limited forms which can be penalized. Castro said that Republic Act 7877 or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 is only limited to work, education, or training environment and it presupposes the existence of authority, influence, or moral ascendancy of the perpetrator over the victim.

Republic Act 7877 states: “Work, education or training-related sexual harassment is committed by an employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainor, or any other person who, having authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another in a work or training or education environment, demands, requests or otherwise requires any sexual favor from the other, regardless of whether the demand, request or requirement for submission is accepted by the object of said Act.”

Offenders of RA 7877 will be penalized with imprisonment of one to six months, a fine of P10,000 to P20,000, or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.

The existing law doesn’t cover sexual harassment that is done in public places or even online by strangers. “But it doesn’t mean that people who experience such are not victims of sexual harassment; our law is just limiting. The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) is currently supporting several proposals in Congress to amend the law by expanding its scope or coverage,” Castro explained.

While the current laws exclude the prosecution of sexual harassment done in public places, Quezon City is the first city in Metro Manila that imposes penalties on harassment in streets or public places. With PCW’s plans to expand the coverage of the law, it’s relevant to include online-based harassment which is becoming prevalent. There were recent discoveries of several Facebook pages and groups that post photos, that’s either taken illicitly or grabbed from other sites, of women being ‘feasted’ by men.

 

Sexual Harassment in Numbers

Castro shared that based on a “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces” November 2015 briefer from UN Women in London, a 2012 study reveals that 43 percent of young women all over the world experienced some form of street harassment in 2011 (Ending Violence Against Women Coalition 2012).

In the Philippines, specifically in Quezon City, the largest city in Metro Manila, a study was conducted in 2016 by the Social Weather Station which revealed that 58 percent of SH are experienced in public spaces like streets and roads with the majority of SH happening in public transport. Three in five women have experienced SH at least once in their lifetime while 88 percent of women ages 18-24 have experienced SH at least once in their lifetime. Over 34 percent of women experienced SH in the form of groping, public masturbation and flashing.

The report also gathered data from men who admitted that they have committed SH. The study shows three of five men have committed a form of SH at least once in their lifetime; and two out of five men committed groping, public masturbation and flashing.

From both studies, it’s clear that women are the most vulnerable to SH. And with women being the most affected by this issue, Castro said that SH could drastically affect a victim’s wellbeing, from her physical to mental health.  It can also affect the victim’s self-esteem, and could possibly limit women’s human development.

 

Combating Sexual Harassment

PCW is a policy-making and advisory body. Although it does not provide direct services to citizens, it facilitates all the inquiries regarding SH and recommends them to appropriate agencies who can properly attend to victims’ concerns.

“We can only provide them with proper information on what to do and where to ask for help. In line with this, we regularly conduct information campaigns and events on the rights and empowerment of women,” Castro said.

She also encourages offices to have a Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI) because should harassment occurs within the office, this body must be the one who will set meetings with all the persons involved and conduct an impartial investigation on alleged SH cases.

As a branch of government, PCW monitors the implementation of laws on women. “We usually recommend proposals to both Houses on amendments of laws that needs to be updated. For example, we currently have two laws on Violence Against Women (VAW) that needed to be amended (Women’s Priority Legislative Agenda) which are the: Strengthening the Provisions of R.A. 8353: Amending the Anti-Rape Law and the Strengthening Law Enforcement and Protection Against Sexual Offenses: Expanding the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law.”

Currently, the PCW implements an 18-Day Campaign To End VAW. In this campaign, they will share videos portraying various forms of VAW to inform women on what they can do if they are in an abusive relationship.

Victims of sexual harassment are now standing up and calling the attention of those who abused them. Time has changed, and it’s time to stop normalizing foolish acts. To those valiant victims that openly share their wound brought by the past — the healing starts now.

For more details, visit the Philippine Commission on Women website: www.pcw.gov.ph.