“He means well.”
“He’s just being protective.”
“He didn’t mean to do it. He was just upset.”
You have heard statements like this from your friends. You have observed how their relationship has degenerated, and you’ve tried to be objective about the whole situation. But when a loved one’s relationship has become a cycle of abuse, it’s hard not to try to take charge of the situation and become more than an observer.
Sally recognizes this.
At a recent meeting of GABRIELA, Sally explained how she even justified her former partner’s abuse, not recognizing how he was slowly removing her power to choose and change her life. Fortunately, she found a way to open up to her family and friends who helped her take the first step.
Sally is lucky. But often in the Philippines, the victim and the people who should provide support are hampered by culture and custom. It’s not surprising that many people use the following excuses: “Away mag-asawa yan, ‘wag kang makialam,” or “’Wag kang makikialam sa buhay ng iba!”
This kind of thinking has only made it hard for many women who experience abuse to go forward and report their case.
The Philippine Statistics Authority reported in 2018 that 14 percent of Filipino women experience physical abuse from their partners, while 34 percent experience emotional abuse. But the numbers could even be higher as many Filipino women are still reluctant to report to authorities.
Atty. Kathy Panguban, a member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and the head of their Committee for Women and Children, explains that these numbers are only a tip of the iceberg, given that many factors could affect the total number of reported cases.
Panguban says, “Not all women who are in an abusive relationship are prepared or ready to come out to the public and prosecute [their] abusive partners.”
Economic and Social Forces Motivate Women — NOT to Report
The latest statistics sadly reveal that most women who experience physical and emotional abuse are often affected by socio-economic factors, largely due to their lack of education and financial stability. Most of these women rely on their partners when it comes to finances, and in many cases do not report any action that violates Republic Act 9262 (which includes marital rape, threats of violence and harm, stalking, and even destruction of a woman’s pet and property) because they may be imprisoning the only person who provides them food and shelter.
Also, some women in both urban and rural areas in the country would rather not report their case of physical or emotional abuse at the barangay level because of the tendency of the community and the barangay officials to reconcile couples.
Lovely Ramos, the Secretary General of GABRIELA Network of Professionals, explains that there is a proper way to handle a probable case of abuse, but they should not try to reconcile an abuser with the victim, as it only perpetuates the cycle of abuse.
Ramos adds that the state of the Women’s and Children’s Desk at the Barangay level also makes it difficult for many victims to come forward because shame, embarrassment, and even public discussion of their case is not an appealing prospect.
Any case of abuse should be handled with discretion, but in the Filipino barangay setting, it makes the case open for discussion with reconciliation as the main goal.
Recognizing the Cycle of Abuse
But there is also the psychological factor that contributes to the situation. Many women do not realize that they are being abused because they do not understand the power and control dynamics of a relationship.
In the first stages, the abuser might try to create a tense situation in the home. This situation could stem from domestic issues like taking care of the children, sexual demands, or even economic concerns. But when the abuser starts to use the situation to verbally abuse their partners, such as blaming them for the problem or humiliating them in front of other people, then it becomes a form of emotional abuse, especially if the abuser uses it to control their partner’s behavior inside the home.
This verbal abuse often escalates into other forms, such as limiting a woman’s social interactions and isolating her from family and friends. In the Philippines, men often encourage their partners to become stay-at-home moms, but in some cases, an abuser uses this as a leverage to hold economic and financial power over a spouse. Some women in abusive relationships justify this demand because they hold on to the traditional view that men should earn for the family and women should take care of the household and the children.
But abusive relationships don’t stop there.
Threats, coercion, intimidation, and physical harm follow abusive language, until the victim believes the violence they experience is their fault, and that something worse will happen if they report their case to the authorities. These are often threats to their person, their children, or their economic situation. (“Kapag pinapulis mo ko, saan ka pupulutin?”)
Once the violence reaches a climax, what follows is a reconciliation or honeymoon stage, in which the abuser apologizes for their actions, makes promises to change, and even makes steps to appease the victim by attending counseling sessions or make amends by buying their affection with gifts. This then extends into a period of calm. This period could last for days, weeks or months, but it slides into the tense period once more when the abuser uses a domestic issue to become verbally and physically abusive again.
It’s All About Power and Control
Many women in abusive relationships do not realize the hold their partner has over them, as the abusive partner has already “groomed” them to self-doubt, uncertainty, and dependency. In many cases, victims are so psychologically traumatized that they think they deserve the abusive treatment.
The abuser, in a sense, controls even the victim’s way of thinking.
In the United States, the National Center on Domestic and Social Violence use the Power and Control Diagram to help women and social workers recognize the pattern of abuse. It also helps women to recognize the different kinds of abuse: emotional, physical, and economic.
Most Filipino women think that only physical violence constitutes abuse, and so do not think that their partners are abusing them when they make demands on how they spend their time and money.
In the Philippines, groups like GABRIELA recognize the need to educate women on what constitutes abuse, and how they can break the cycle of dependence and control. Atty. Panguban explains that public discourses are vital in educating the general public that women’s rights are human rights, and everyone is deserving of those.
The Power to Take Action
Which leaves the question: what can we do when our friends, loved ones, and neighbors are in an abusive relationship? Do we turn our heads and give the same excuses?
Section 9 of RA 9262 allows the following people to file a petition for a protection against domestic abuse if the offended party is unable or unwilling to do so:
- The parents or guardians of the victim
- Relatives within the fourth degree of consanguinity
- DSWD social workers and officers of the local government unit (LGU)
- Police officers-in-charge of the Women’s and Children’s Desk
- Your Barangay Captain or Kagawad
- Lawyer, counselor, therapist or healthcare provider of the petitioner
- At least two (2) concerned citizens of the municipality who have personal knowledge of the offense and know where the violation occurred
Ramos explains that barangay officials have the responsibility to protect the victims of the alleged abuse, and that those who need protection from the abuser are entitled to a “safe place or shelter” maintained by the DSWD or any organization accredited by the government to temporarily provide a home for the victim.
Silence is Not an Option
But even when we feel that we need to respect our loved one’s choices, Ramos says that we need to listen and recognize when someone is crying out for help. Ramos explains that domestic abuse is something that many Filipinos “Keep to ourselves, because a relationship is a private matter,” but when that loved one or friend speaks up, we need to listen and make them talk about the situation.
“We should never invalidate or underestimate a person’s silence,” and recognize how difficult it was to speak up, Ramos says.
And even if, in the end, they still refuse to go to the proper authorities, Ramos advises friends and relatives to not give up but remain as a constant presence in the person’s life. “Be consistent, but be gentle.”
Panguban further adds, “Speak up,” as it is the only way to break the cycle of abuse.