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Opinion

Are rape jokes not punishable?

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas - The Philippine Star

It was a big win for women’s rights activists when House Bill 8794 passed second reading in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Ramon Rocamora authored House Bill 8794 or the proposed “Safe Street, Public, and Online Spaces Act,” aiming to define sexual harassment in the Philippines, not just in physical, public spaces, but also online.

The  bill seeks to provide concrete definitions for gender-based harassment, providing protective measures and penalties for violators. The existing anti-sexual harassment measures in the Philippines only cover violations related to employment, education, or training environments.

According to the proposed bill, using information and communication technology to terrorize victims through physical, psychological and emotional threats counts as online sexual harassment. This means that receiving unwanted sexual and sexist comments online, entitles one to report them and have the users penalized.

What constitutes gender-based harassment? 

Catcalling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitations, sexist slurs, requests for personal details and sexual advances (whether physical or verbal), are just a few of the acts defined by the bill as street and public-space harassment, particularly when performed in malls, restaurants, bars, public utility vehicles, alleys, or other public places.

Depending on the gravity of the violation, as well as the frequency, violators may have to attend community service with mandatory gender-sensitivity seminars; face imprisonment; or pay a fine of P10,000 up to P500,000 if the bill is passed into law.

The proposed law also has provisions for when the harassment is committed by non-Filipino citizens, minors, or juridical people and the penalties applicable to them.

Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy thanks the authors of the bill  and members of the House committee on women and gender equality as it seeks to “foster respect for others and cast away long-held misconceptions of how to wield  personal power over other people.” 

“Every person, regardless of how they look, their age, background, gender or gender orientation, identity, or expression deserves respect on our streets and other public spaces, including cyberspace and social media,” said the Bagong Henerasyon Party-List congresswoman.  

The House Assistant Majority Leader has been quoted as saying that HB8794 is one of many steps to change deep-seated gender, age differences, race, and cultural differences.

“Those beliefs are not easy to transform for the better. It will take time and this proposed law will hopefully make that change nationwide and with deep personal impact,” she said.

The bill is wanting in the coverage of language clearly constituting sexual harassment and degeneration of women’s dignity.   

Should not making fun of sexual assaults, even verbally, or in allusions, to women’s vulnerability?

 I have yet to read a comment from the authors of HB 8794 deploring President Duterte’s boasts about his conquests, whether they be false or true, or mere jokes, of attempting assaults on women or girls. From my stand, there is no hope for a victim to  seek judicial justice over her  being raped by a father, stepfather or uncle or brother if triumphant declarations by a leader dismisses rape as nothing to worry about.  

 Gabriela, a militant women’s  political organization, was flaming mad when Duterte was reported in media  as saying on Dec. 29  he “touched” his maid when he was a teenager. Gabriela and other women’s rights groups accused him of attempted rape and encouraging sexual abuse.

Duterte frequently sparks fire and fury in  women, for his  rape jokes and boasting about adultery.

In his latest reported  remarks, Duterte recounted a confession he had with a priest in high school, detailing how he had entered the room of his maid while she was sleeping.

“I lifted the blanket... I tried to touch what was inside the panty,” Duterte said in a speech.

“I was touching. She woke up. So I left the room.”

Duterte recounted telling the priest that he had then returned to the maid’s room and again tried to molest her.

Gabriela denounced Duterte’s “repulsive” comments and called for him to resign, saying he had confessed to attempted rape.

“Rape does not happen only through penile insertion. If it is a finger or an object it is considered rape,” said Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela.

Duterte, 73, made the remarks as he blasted the Catholic Church over allegations of sexually abusing children. From my stand, the president is correct in denouncing abuses committed by priests. As many observers claim, men of the cloth accused of committing abuses were just being transferred to other parishes. Only last year did Pope Francis defrock two cardinals and a Chilean cleric for sexual abuse.

Duterte and his aides often dismiss his controversial statements about women as a “joke” or insist they are taken out of context.

Women, mostly, were in an uproar in 2016 when during an election campaign speech he said he had wanted to rape a “beautiful” Australian missionary who had been murdered in a Philippine prison riot.

Women’s advocates said Duterte’s latest comments endangered domestic workers.

More than a million Filipinos work abroad as domestic workers, according to the Department of Labor. 

“Flaunting abusive practices encourages the rape culture and in this case, sexual abuse of domestic workers,” said Jean Enriquez, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific.

Last June and July, women’s rights activists held a rally in Manila to protest Duterte’s treatment of women, including his remarks that communist rebels should be “shot in the vagina.”

Now, I wonder, should not HB8794 consider making jokes about rape sexual harassment? Are they not being committed in person, in streets, public places and online?

* * *

Re my column last Tuesday about Carmen, Agusan del Norte Mayor Ramon Calo,  I said of the town’s problems,  Calo said, 

 “Anywhere you go there is the NPA problem. He shrugs off drugs as a major problem. Even policemen making money is found everywhere.”  In fairness,  the mayor told me after the column came out, “What I remember discussing with you is the problem of the usual extortion of NPA … which is the usual job of PNP to solve… not PNP asking money.”

* * *

Email: [email protected]

 

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