rape in the Philippines

Women’s advocates: SC ‘fine-tuning’ rape consummation favors perpetrators

Michelle Abad

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Women’s advocates: SC ‘fine-tuning’ rape consummation favors perpetrators


Women's alliance GABRIELA says the Supreme Court's focus on anatomy in the consummation of rape may cause more rape victims to not speak out

Trigger warning: This article tackles and mentions the topic of rape.

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC)’s recent ruling explaining when rape is consummated based on where a penis touches a vagina is more advantageous to the perpetrators, a women’s rights group, a lawyer, and a survivor of sexual abuse said.

In a decision promulgated on October 4, 2022, but made public by the SC on March 31, the High Court said the “mere introduction, however slight” to the cleft of the labia majora by a penis “that is capable of penetration, regardless of whether such penile penetration is thereafter fully achieved, consummates the crime of rape.”

Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa penned the 40-page decision affirming the conviction of a certain Efren Agao for statutory and simple rape. While Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen did not question whether rape occurred, he dissented towards the introduced doctrine, saying the Court’s majority opinion was “not a progressive step.” He said rape must be seen as a consent-based offense and not a purely sexual act.

“There is no such thing as attempted rape. All rape is rape. All rape violates dignity. The finer points of the parts of the vagina touched by the penis is irrelevant,” said Leonen.

In a statement on Tuesday, April 4, women’s alliance GABRIELA slammed the SC’s “fine-tuning” of the definition of rape, since “the dignity of a woman does not rest on a vagina.” They also said that the ruling favors rape perpetrators, and not victims.

“By creating ‘gradations’ between ‘rape’ and ‘attempted rape’ on account of anatomical thresholds, the Supreme Court is effectively reducing the dignity of women to our body parts. It forgets that whether a woman is forced into acts of vaginal penetration, oral sex, or penetration through foreign objects, the point is that such acts constitute grave violation of the woman’s dignity,” said Clarice Palce, secretary general of women’s alliance GABRIELA.

Palce urged the SC to remember that this ruling is set within the Philippine context, where rape victims already struggle to find the courage to speak up and seek justice.

“We have no doubts that there would be even more rape victims forced into silence following this decision. Simply and frankly worded, this is a ruling that favors only perpetrators, not rape victims,” said Palce.

GABRIELA also noted how the SC’s focus on anatomy poses “dangers” for rape victims who do not have vaginas. “There are plenty of women who either do not possess vaginas as in the case of transgender women, women with undeveloped genitals, intersex women, and many more who may face the realities of sexual violence but who clearly would not even be considered rape victims under this ruling,” said Palce.

EnGendeRights executive director Clara Rita Padilla said she “fully subscribes” to Leonen’s dissenting opinion. The lawyer pointed to the long line of SC cases that recognize rape as a crime against dignity, and state that a mere touch of the penis on the labia is rape.

Padilla also said that this “restrictive interpretation of the law” benefits perpetrators of rape.

“The countless rape survivors in the Philippines, the trauma they suffered and the violation of their rights calls for justice and the international human rights obligation of the Philippine state to address rape with due diligence where there is effective prevention, investigation, prosecution, and penalties imposed on rape perpetrators, where a rigid interpretation on where the penis touched the labia is insignificant,” Padilla said.

“We are talking about effective prosecution and justice system where rape perpetrators are held accountable. That is the only way our daughters, sisters, mothers, and female friends would be safe against perpetrators of rape,” Padilla added.

Sexual abuse survivor Erin, not her real name, said that using the specified definition of consummated rape puts the decision on whether rape occurred “in the hands of the man.”

Erin’s experience did not involve force, but the lack of informed consent. She believes that her sexual partner at the time lied about not sleeping with anyone else to persuade her to have sex with him. She said she would have not agreed had she known that he had other sexual partners.

A University of California Riverside article explains that informed consent is “an unambiguous, affirmative, and conscious decision by each person to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.”

“The basis of rape is on the limits of the guy, so it’s like you’re still giving the guy power,” Erin said in a mix of English and Filipino.

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[OPINION | DASH of SAS] To prevent rape, understand consent

Leonen said in his dissenting opinion: “This Court should view Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) from the eyes of the victim, not from the point of view of the perpetrator. All rape victims suffer the same trauma. All rape victims suffer the same indignity.”

Article 266-A of the RPC defines rape through sexual intercourse and sexual assault. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers overseas Filipinos, the rights of women and children, and local governments.