Giving abused women a choice
() - December 8, 2006 - 12:00am
Do you know that battered women and children can file for barangay protection which will keep them away from their abuser for 15 days? Do you know that most crimes against women are committed at night, when their cries for help often fall on deaf ears?

These are just some of the things host Rhea Santos and the staff are learning at the award-winning QTV 11 show Women’s Desk (Thursdays, 10 to 11 p.m.). They shudder at the sight of a man burning his wife, unmindful of the fact that their 12-year-old daughter would catch him and douse water on her poor mother. They rescue battered women right at their homes, where the enraged husband hurls invectives at them and covers the TV camera with his hands.

They get an average of 10 "walk-ins" daily, each seekingr help for themselves their female and underaged loved ones, friends or neighbors. The Women’s Desk hotline (926-6598) lives up to its name. It receives an average of 25 to 30 calls every single day.

Rhea can’t help but shed that objective newscaster stance she takes on GMA 7’s Unang Hirit on Women’s Desk, winner of the Silver Screen award for Social Issues at the 2005 US Film and Video Festival. The stories break her heart and push her to work even harder.

Rhea, a few months pregnant with her first child, shares the stories with her husband. He knows his hardworking wife loves what she’s doing and looks at her fight for the rights of women and children through the show as a mission.

And to think she was reluctant to take on the job at first!

"I figured what the show needed was a confrontational host, a female version of Mike Enriquez. I may not be able to fit the bill," admits Rhea.

But she of the gentle disposition but dogged dedication was the program executives’ first choice for the job.

"We wanted someone with recall and is approachable at the same time," says Women’s Desk executive producer Karen Lumbo.

They were right all along. Rhea has mastered the art of talking to victims of abuse through her gentle, quiet ways. The more nonjudgmental she is, the more they pour their hearts out to her.

After all, the program’s staff is treading on sensitive grounds. At stake is not only the safety of the women and children, but their very lives as well.

Thus, the victims need someone they can trust, someone who will not betray their deepest, darkest secrets and fears.

"Often," notes program manager Marilen Go, "the women we rescue come from the masses. They depend on the man for their financial needs. They have no one to run to and can’t afford a lawyer."

So they endure physical and sexual abuse. Some – horror or horrors – even show signs of the battered wife syndrome. They return to the man for another round of abuses after their bruises have healed.

Program executives tell these women there are lawyers willing to work pro bono for them. All they need do is speak up and let their voices be heard.

"Often, it’s just a case of sheer ignorance of the options open to these women and children," says Go. So Women’s Desk shows them the options. They tell the victims they can seek protection in shelters – whether run by government offices or NGOs. The important thing is, there’s a way out. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Social attitude also gets in the way. People stay away from feuding couples because they don’t want to meddle in what they think is a domestic problem. It’s away mag-asawa, as they say. So women still get maltreated, day in and day out.

Next year, Women’s Desk plans to take their cause a step further by launching an action center where complaints and cases can be looked into more extensively.

The battle – and the crusade – go on, this time on a higher level. That’s good news for women and children who want their God-given right to a decent life back.

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