Manila, Philippines: In June, high numbers of sexual harassment cases began to surface at a string of schools across Metro Manila after a former student at Miriam College High School shared her story of how her Grade 11 teacher had admitted to having inappropriate fantasies about his students with her. Emboldened by this display of courage, other students and alumni of other schools including Marikina Science High School, Quezon City Science High School, St. Theresa’s College, Ateneo de Manila University and St. Paul College Pasig, all came out to share their stories.
The survivors, mostly female students and young women, took to social media to expose cases of sexual harassment and assault by teachers and faculty members. In response to student and alumni accusations, many of the schools released a generic statement.
“We are saddened by recent social media posts of reported incidents of sexual harassment by certain members of the faculty of [Ateneo],” Ateneo de Manila University’s Maria Elissa Lao said in a statement. “We assure our students that we are here to listen and support anyone who has experienced harassment.”
She added, “We are verifying these reports and are ready to immediately begin impartial investigation when warranted.”
These statements, however, have done little to appease growing anger. Students and supporters, seeking justice and demanding commitments for safer school environments, have resorted to Twitter to raise awareness of the issues using the hashtags #SPCPSQUAREUP, #TIMESUPATENEO, #MCHSDoBetter, #DARSSTHSDOBETTER and #STCDOBETTER.
Thanks to the #MeToo and #TimesUp revolutionary social movements, women feel more empowered to share about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Speaking up and telling their stories is usually the first step in the healing process for many victims and addressing the issue of sexual harassment and assault requires awareness and public discourse. Looking the other way and aiming to sweep these issues under the rug only leaves young girls feeling powerless and deprived of the solidarity they need to help them move forward and fight against the injustice.
So how do we help to end the culture of silence?
A No Tolerance Policy
Women don’t often come forward when they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted; only one in five women report sexual harassment. Research shows that when it comes to incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, 80% of victims do not report it to their employer. And when victims do share their stories, it is often decontextualized and made to sound trivial.
According to leading psychology publication Psychology Today, shame, trauma or feelings of helplessness can get in the way of reporting an incident. If a report is made, the case is difficult to investigate as it is sometimes many years after the fact so there is little evidence and contains inconsistencies given the time delay.
When reporting about the assault, survivors should aim to use the assertive communication method called the Broken Record Technique. It sends a firm message that the offender’s actions and behaviour were unwanted, had violated their dignity and by repeating and reinforcing what had occured ensures that authorities are clear of the details.
Stop the Victim-Blaming
Blaming the victim, where victims of crimes are held responsible for what happened to them, is common in rape and sexual assault cases. Victim blaming directly accuses the survivor of causing their own misfortune through direct or indirect statements and questions that target their behaviour and clothing:
- What was she wearing?
- Was she drunk?
- She probably deserved it!
- You should have been more careful.
- Are you sure that’s what happened?
Survivors should be given a safe space where they can freely open up about the attack without feeling guilt or shame. In schools, were the perpetrators are teachers and the victims are in students in school uniform, there should be little doubt as to who the real victims are.
Finding the courage to speak up and use your voice is challenging when females are often socialised to deal with issues in silence and there is doubt that you will be believed if you do. Know that by using your voice, you inspire others to do the same and you become a source of strength and inspiration to others who may be staying silent about their own experiences. Suffering in silence does not do anybody any good.
Parents of young survivors must not remain quiet. Now is the time to talk to your kids and others about this and to demand justice for your child.
Witnesses too should come forward without fear of retribution; in cases where it is often a survivor’s word against the perpetrator, witness testimony would assist in bringing justice.
Schools and organisations must have a proper channels where victims of sexual harassment and assault can report with confidence that they will be protected, that actions will be taken and where justice can prevail. Sexual misconduct of any kind should not to be tolerated and offenders must be made accountable.
Teaching our kids and girls especially to speak up and rise up against any form of violence against women helps to end the culture of silence and subsequently helps to eliminate sexual harassment and violence.
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