Survivors’ Truths: Sexual Harassment Victims Share their Stories

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This has been a pivotal year for young girls, women, and victims of sexual violence. From celebrities speaking up about abusive men and gender inequities in Hollywood, to thousands of Pakistani women taking to the streets to seek justice for Zainab, it seems as though the patriarchal order has come under scrutiny like never before in history.

Countless other survivors found new strength in sharing their #MeToo stories in the wake of these events, showing the world that the collective strength of women is a force to reckon with.

But this movement also tells us one more unspeakable truth: sexual violence is common.

Things are indeed changing, with women from all walks of life being more vocal and using different platforms to spread awareness and speak for the voiceless. But the overall mood is far from celebratory.

Many of those I’ve asked to share for this piece refused because they would rather forget what happened and move on, and who can blame them? There’s still plenty of stigmas attached to being a victim. Women and young girls, and even men and boys, are held responsible for provoking their abuser. Forgetting is the initial, and sometimes the best, coping strategy. Remembering means you’ll have to relive the pain, anger, disgust, sadness, that lingering feeling of being powerless and regret that you didn’t scream or push hard enough to escape.

On top of re-experiencing that whirlwind of emotions, speaking up is also signing yourself up for an endless cycle of cyberbullying and victim-shaming. You’ll be hurt again, knowing that you’ll have to defend yourself for something you shouldn’t even be blamed for.

It comes as no surprise that 2 out of 3 sexual abuse cases go unnoticed and unreported.  Many continue to suffer at the hands of an intimate partner or relative, while those silenced forever have been reduced to a widening statistic that defines society’s lack of resistance to a culture of sexual violence. Despite the enactment of the Magna Carta of Women in 2009 and the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act in 2004, cases continue to pile up.

Today, brave women speaking up and sharing their stories. We can only hope that their voices become louder and bolder, and that many more will follow suit.

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“I was molested when I was six. It was one afternoon when I went outside to play, because I wanted to escape my mom’s forced daily afternoon naps. I passed by this narrow alley near my house, and I heard a “psst” from a man in the neighborhood call Edward. He was 30-ish, with jet black hair and eagle-like eyes, a pointed chin and a full beard. Next thing I remember, my underwear was down and he was touching me. I remember him telling me, “Kapag nagsumbong ka, papatayin ko pamilya mo.”

Nobody ever knew about that incident. I simply coped by trying to suppress that memory, by trying to forget. I didn’t see him years after that until I turned 14. We had this small sari-sari store. I was in shock when I saw him outside our store to buy a smoke. While my dad was getting the sticks of cigarette from the stash, the asshole said, “Hi, (my name).” He said it so matter-of-factly, as if that incident eight years ago never happened. It made my blood boil.

Over time that memory became dormant. It’s still there at the back of my mind, but I try to forget it as much as I can.”

(Nicole, 24)

                ***

“Well, it was a guy I was dating. He was really funny; we’ve gone out on maybe four dates before it happened. It started out as consensual, but then he refused to wear a condom and didn’t stop even when I asked him to. After we left the hotel, I didn’t want to see him anymore. I then suffered a miscarriage several weeks later. I didn’t know I was pregnant.

I went through depression through all those months, eventually called a suicide hotline. They recommended a counselor from Ateneo. So, I went, but she blamed me and the fact that I was an atheist. So, I stopped going to that, too, because she said that it was all my lack of faith in a god. After a few more months I found an actual therapist had to take some anti-depressants.

After a while, I started feeling better. That was when I started to date again, but I had trouble connecting with people, and I would cut them off as soon as they do something I don’t agree with. I still have trouble getting really close to men.”

(Joy, 27)

***

“”Sarap mo naman k*ntutin.”

Some lame excuse for a man whispered this to me as I was walking along BGC at around six in the morning. I am catcalled every single day, but never with a term so blatant. Not by any random manyak on the road, not even by the crassest of my former lovers. The way he said it and the way he kept looking back at me, made my skin crawl. I wanted to yell at him, run after his bike to kick him in the groin. Anything to avenge me. But I was exhausted from working the night shift; I didn’t have the energy to fight back. Instead, I stood there frozen, with my mouth agape, trying to fight back my tears.”

(Mai, 26)

***

“I was fifteen when a man my entire family trusted violated me. Deeply insecure and traumatized by what happened, I kept things to myself and grew an intense hatred toward men. I developed anger issues toward everything else, too, and distanced myself from friends and family.

When I was 18, I was forced to have sex with someone after repeatedly saying no and begging to go home. I went home feeling dead inside, so I retreated to my shell where no one could hurt me…

Though I had a boyfriend a year later and started recovering, I had a hard time being intimate, primarily because I had zero trust in people. Throughout college, I was depressed and lonely, even when I’m surrounded by people. And worst of all, I hurt people, with my words and actions. I shut them out and refused to be loved.

Three years later, I was single, capable, and nearly 22, and I found myself in the same situation. Another man my entire family trusted brought me back to that place of darkness and helplessness.

But I didn’t go back to my shell, I endured and got back on my feet, and talked to my friends about the experience. I didn’t isolate myself from the world, and though I didn’t get the justice I deserve, I found comfort in knowing that I know how to value myself now and the people I can trust, that I can still laugh, let new people in, and go after my dreams despite everything I’ve been through.”

(Lea, 24)

***

“As someone who tries to fight back when being catcalled, one can only imagine how I felt when I was sexually harassed in front of my classmates and yet I wasn’t able to fight back or retaliate. Most ironic of all is that it was a Gender and Development class in UP CSWCD, and you would think that all the boys taking the course actually learn something. And what is even more ironic is that the boy was from a seemingly progressive and radical university-wide political party, and he even ran for Student Council once, and yet he could not help but strip down his principles supposedly ingrained in him just because I was wearing a high-waist skirt and a crop top that day.

I was too busy listening to our professor one day and too keen on taking note of her every point, which I didn’t mind who sat next to me in class and what he was doing. I have been ogled at and leered at like a piece of meat for three hours straight, and I didn’t even know. It was only after classmates who sat behind me in the class told me of their observations that I began noticing how he had the gall to even smirk at me when I caught his eye.

I filed a case in UP OASH, and once in the proceedings of my case, the harasser even had the gall to be the one to cry in front of the staff and comment how I must have ruined his reputation or his chances of transferring to CSWCD. And I could not stomach back then how harassers like him have so much courage when harassing a woman, and yet cry like a baby when they are being reprimanded for actions they had done themselves. But did they ever ask how I actually spent sleepless nights blaming myself for what happened, how I pushed myself to stand up and appear to one proceeding after another, to still go to that class twice a week and see his unapologetic face, to make myself believe that it was never my fault and to stop blaming myself for what happened?

The results arrived a year and a half after I graduated, saying it lacked probable cause, and the boy didn’t even need to take GAD Sessions or do community work. No apologies, even.

But what I want to tell everyone is:  You matter. Our feelings and needs and wants matter. They do not have to come in second to anyone else’s, and they sure as hell are not less important than ideals or tradition or the approval of anyone, even your family’s. Even your family’s.”

(Katrina, 23)

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I once had a roommate whose father raped her countless times. I hate myself for not reporting it to the authorities and for not doing enough to get her out of that hellhole. A few weeks ago, I browsed her Facebook and sent her a message. I’m glad that she’s doing better now and that she has a boyfriend who treats her well. And most importantly, that she’s miles away from the man who stripped her of her innocence and dignity.

These accounts are disturbing and upsetting. But they also show a woman’s strength and resilience; how they can move on with their lives after their experience may be hard to comprehend for some.

Many women are also now realizing that change has to come from us. It can come in the form of spreading awareness, showing support to fellow victims, challenging antiquated views on gender and sexuality, expressing resistance against the repressive powers that be, and just being our beautiful, capable selves spreading kindness and love.

If you’ve experienced sexual violence and need help, reach out to the organizations below:

  1. United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

http://www.endvawnow.org/en/need-help

(63) (2) 926 7744

  1. Gabriela’s Facebook Messenger Chatbot, aka “Gabbie”

How to contact her: Type “gabbiebygabriela” on Facebook’s search engine or go to this page. View the profile and send a message to report your experience or ask for advice.

  1. Women’s Crisis Center

3F ER-Trauma Extension

Annex Building of the East Avenue Medical Cente, Diliman, Quezon City

+632-922-5235/+632-926-7744

  1. Department of Social Welfare and Development

(02)931-8101 to 07 or visit any local social welfare office nearby

  1. Philippine National Police
    • 20 or contact/drop by your local police to report your case.
  2. PNP – Women and Children Protection Center

410-3213 or your local barangay women and children’s desk

  1. NBI – Violence Against Women and Children Desk

523-8231 to 38/525-6028

Get your Project Rape Whistle from these sources:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/sarasaristore/

https://shopee.ph/Anti-rape-whistle-i.4877146.179471952

https://www.lazada.com.ph/against-rape-whistle-10728987.html

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