Power, politics, and rape

This is my column today, December 6, 2006, at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

Sexual crimes such as rape, sexual molestation and even sexual harassment are not really just about sex. They often happen because one party thinks he or she is entitled to certain liberties mainly because of inequities in power structures.

Many studies show that unequal power structures between cultures and between genders are important determinants of sexual crimes. For example, there are many documented cases of sexual crimes being committed by those with economic power, i.e., rape or sexual harassment being committed by people who think that their money can buy almost anything and therefore entitles them to take advantage of others. In addition, traditional negative gender stereotypes, specifically those that tend to devalue women (in the case of the Subic rape case, Filipino women) make them susceptible to sexual crimes.

Thus, was the rape committed because the accused servicemen thought that Filipino women are like commodities that can be had that easily? Was the rape—and the subsequent atrocious way the victim was carried out of the van and dumped on the sidewalk—indicative of the level of contempt for Filipino women? These were some of the unspoken questions that hung in the air all throughout the trial.

It is within this context that we can make sense of the political drama surrounding the Subic rape case, including the seemingly incendiary statements of the militants that have been keeping watch on the trial and even those of Nicole’s private lawyer when the verdict was given last Monday. When the verdict was read, she was caught on television shouting something along the lines of vindication of Filipino women and justice for Filipinos and women in general. Of course, those who have been following the developments in the trial could not have missed the placards, slogans, and the chants of the militants and human rights activists that hued very closely to the statements of the victim’s private lawyer.

For quite sometime now, attempts to provide a wider and deeper social and political context to the rape case have been met with some skepticism, perhaps even indifference. For many people, the rape case was a simple case of crime allegedly committed against one person. But for others, particularly the militants, the rape case was definitely more than that as they threw in concepts such as national sovereignty, national pride, the honor of Filipino women, etc., into the picture.

I think that there are valid grounds for some of these claims. Because the rape happened inside a former United States naval base and involved US servicemen, the cross-culture implications cannot be avoided. However, the acrobatic logical deductions employed by some quarters— particularly those that lump together Americans in general (or the US government for that matter), all servicemen, Filipino women who work at Subic, etc., beg to be reconsidered. The criminal act of one or four or 20 US servicemen is not enough repudiation of all US servicemen, just as the circumstances and conduct of one Filipino woman cannot be held as collective representation of all Filipino women.

Understandably, there are those who think that we should go easy on the political slogans and the widespread condemnation, fearing a possible backlash directed at our own overseas workers in other countries, specifically those in the United States (never mind the intra-government repercussions, I think we have enough to leverage on against whatever possible diplomatic backlash). I do not want to make light of the fears because the dynamics of rage, particularly those borne of cultural peculiarities, are difficult to fathom. But I have great trust in the capabilities of people to waddle through the possible emotional reactions and see the case for what it is: A crime was committed, a trial was conducted, and a verdict was made based on the facts presented.

Personally, what I found really infuriating and galling about the circumstances around the rape case was the way they treated the victim after the supposed crime was committed. As it is, rape is a crime that cannot be justified or excused. But there is absolutely no defense for the way they carried the victim out of the van like a pig, dumped her unceremoniously on the sidewalk, and left her there like a piece of trash. The picture of the victim—with her panties down, carried like some carcass, discarded at the sidewalk—what enrages me. Surely, no decent man is capable of doing that especially after one has taken liberties against the person. If anything, these acts validated the extremely low regard they had for the victim. They not only violated her person, they totally stripped her of her dignity.

So while the three other servicemen may not have been found guilty of rape there is no doubt in my mind that they are guilty of something else—something just as terrible, depraved, and atrocious. They are guilty of barbarity of the highest order. Which is why I find some relief in the thought that the three servicemen will still face administrative and disciplinary sanctions from the US military establishment.

Having said that, I think it is time for all of us to make sense of the events that just happened. One of the things that saddens me about national issues such as the Subic rape case is our utter inability to draw lessons from the experience after the drama has subsided. It sometimes seems to me that we tend to look at sordid national events as national pastimes, something akin to the teleseryes that we follow on television. They offer momentary excitement and diversion, serve as fodder for emotional debates, and once their run has finished, we move on to the next scandal or human interest story.

Although this is a long shot given the fact that media projection of the Subic rape case has been focused largely on the cross-culture angle, I hope that at the very least the case has highlighted the social issues around sexual crimes. This case involved US servicemen, but lest we forget, rape is not the exclusive domain of foreigners. There are thousands of rape cases involving our own countrymen. Whether they involve US servicemen or Filipinos, rape happens and will continue to happen unless we address the power inequities in our society, most specifically, those perpetuated by traditional gender stereotypes.

* * *

Now that media seems to have reconsidered the hysterics in its reportage of the devastation caused by typhoon Reming, the sobering reality of the extent of the damage is beginning to set in. It is time for all of us to come to the aid of our countrymen in the Bicol area. In the bank that I work for, the holding of the traditional festive Christmas Party has been scrapped this year.

The money earmarked for the party will instead be donated to the victims of the typhoon. It just does not make sense to hold extravagant parties at this time when many of our fellow countrymen do not even have roofs over their head or food on their table. I hope other companies will follow suit. To paraphrase what someone once said, he who does not have Christmas in his heart will not find it under the tree or experience it in a party.


Wenchy1986 said…
As a victim of sexual harassment, albeit not to the extreme of that woman, it is still devastating the way they put the victim instead of the rapist on trial. I have been a good wife and mother and I am now being slandered and the mudslinging is stating that I am nothing but a whore. It is like being raped again.
I urge all women who have been sexually harassed that although this happens -STAND UP and FIGHT back. Do not let him (or her) do this to anyone again. Let them know we will not tolerate this abuse against us. I'm not and even if I lose I know I stood up and did the right thing. Good luck to all!

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