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Because they could

It’s causing a seismic shift in gender relations in the United States. Will we ever see it happen in the Philippines?

I’m referring to the sexual misconduct allegations that have brought down several of America’s rich and powerful, and shamed even an elderly former president into issuing an apology to his accusers.

The public apologies following swift admissions are just as amazing as the courage of several women (and men) to come out in the open and denounce the powerful and famous sexual predators. Equally amazing, for those who answer to higher authorities, is their swift sacking by their corporations or organizations, even if the accused are superstars in their respective fields.

It surely helped that several of the women are self-made stars in their own right. Their star wattage made their coming out in the open even more impressive, and a strong encouragement for other women to denounce and resist sexual harassment.

Rape and other forms of sexual molestation have been regarded as attacks so humiliating that many women and men, whether famous or little known, dread filing a complaint and detailing their private ordeal to the world.

In many societies even in this age, victims of sex crimes still suffer from accusations that they might have asked for it. This is true especially in cases of date rape, wherein the predator has an edge in claiming consensual sex. The argument is that if a woman (or man) willingly goes out with someone on a date, seduction may be expected. I’ve heard men say that when a woman says no, it can actually mean yes. Such attitudes are reinforced by the popularity of books and movies such as Fifty Shades of Grey.

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It is said that powerful men also have powerful sex drives, that the hormone or gene or whatever that fuels their determination to succeed is connected to sexual impulses. I don’t think the sex drive has anything to do with income levels. But wealth and power make it easier for a man to indulge the belief that he has a right to impose his sexual desires on another person even if it’s against the victim’s will.

As Bill Clinton replied, when asked by Dan Rather on “60 Minutes” in 2004 why the US president did what he did with White House intern Monica Lewinsky: “I think I did something for the worst possible reason – just because I could.”

“I think that’s the most, just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything. When you do something just because you could,” Clinton went on. “I’ve thought about it a lot. And there are lots of more sophisticated explanations, more complicated psychological explanations. But none of them are an excuse…”

Clinton can’t escape mention in the ongoing sexual misconduct scandal sweeping Hollywood, US politics, media and other sectors. But his dalliance with “that woman” now pales in comparison with the mountain of accusations hurled against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and fallen Today Show host Matt Lauer.

Before them, there was top comedian Bill Cosby. What made Weinstein’s case the trigger that set off an avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations against others, however, was that his accusers included Hollywood A-listers such as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd.

If such women weren’t embarrassed about admitting in public that in their rise to the top, they were once preyed upon sexually by dirty old Harvey, it was OK for other women to come out with their stories of sexual assault, including butt-groping of young women by George H.W. Bush when he was president.

Bush, now wheelchair-bound, quickly confessed and apologized.

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Will we ever see such confessions and apologies in our country? Will the accused be fired pronto by their organizations if they are superstars in their fields?

Skeptics say Philippine culture is different, that divorce and medical marijuana might be institutionalized, but not the “outing” of sexual predators among the rich and powerful.

Still, perhaps all it will take is one Rose McGowan or Ashley Judd to come out in the open and condemn a prominent tormentor.

The nation can’t be lacking in such victims. Stories have long circulated about the sexual escapades of some of the nation’s wealthiest men. Going by the stories, the sexual targets appeared to be willing victims, accepting enormous sums for their “services.” Yet there could be others who were forced to have sex against their will, but remain scared of coming out and fighting powerful individuals.

 A number of the alleged willing victims are from show business, at least one of whom has successfully made a career shift to politics.

There are even more stories of sexual misconduct involving politicians. Occasionally, they are brought down even by impoverished victims – such as in the case of former congressman Romeo Jalosjos, who was sent to prison for paid sex with a trafficked minor.

Many others, however, get away with the abuses. Either they pay off their victims, or else they use their influence to have the lawsuits against them dismissed.

Others even brag about their sexual escapades, including non-consensual ones. Such stories enhance a twisted concept of machismo in our society, which also looks the other way when politicians openly brag about marital infidelity.

If a glamorous movie star is sexually assaulted by a scumbag film producer in our country, he might even brag about it, and keep a video recording of the assault. The thought of that kind of exposure can scare the victim into silence.

As the unfolding events in the US show, however, all it can take is one prominent victim to set the example and end the silence. Seeing sexual predators penalized in the US might embolden some of the victims in the Philippines to come out and go after their tormentors.

The question is whether their predators can be shamed into making a public admission and apology, and convicted and sent behind bars.

For now, the impunity is bound to persist. Why? As Clinton explained, because they can.

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ERRATUM: A line in my previous column should have read, “chalked up to the will of the heavens,” not “choked up.” Sorry.

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