sexual violence

[OPINION] The myth of the individual narrative in the struggle against sexual violence

Sophia Beatriz Reyes

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[OPINION] The myth of the individual narrative in the struggle against sexual violence

Marian Hukom/Rappler

'For a victim-survivor to share their story takes courage, and it is courage that spreads to others with shared experiences'

To commit a crime and get away with it, predators rely on a number of specific tools: one, that there are no witnesses; two, that in the chance they are caught in the act, there is nothing to trap them in place; and three, that they can sit on the shoulders of spineless enablers. 

The steady influx of encounters shared by victim-survivors prove that circumstances remain apt for predators despite enactments such as Republic Act No. 11313, better known as the Safe Spaces Act or the Bawal Bastos Law. 

Since its establishment in September 2022, youth organization Enough Is Enough has recorded at least 61 cases of incidents of harassment, abuse, and other forms of sexual violence from campuses all over the country since the Safe Spaces Act was passed five years ago. Even still, it is certain that there is an even greater number that remains unreported, and this continues to be the dominant narrative for victim-survivors everywhere, which is often a decision born out of a multitude of reasons, such as factors relating but not limited to lapses in legislation and the lack of accountability measures in our schools. 

While these aforementioned legal and administrative obstacles are the most concrete and visible ones in the struggle, they persist because of an even larger withstanding issue, and this is the stigma and discrimination tied to those who have experiences of abuse and harassment. Beyond the weight of their traumatic encounters, they are often left to suffer in silence due to school administrations, churches, and even family members who do not understand their plight. 

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All too often, a victim-survivor does not receive the support needed from all the ends through which they seek justice. For instance, they may resort to exposing their harasser on social media as a sort of recourse before they are contacted by school heads who fear their reputation at stake, requesting that the report “undergo proper channels,” when their first course of action is not an impulse but a reaction to what they understand is the most plausible and accessible form of justice they can receive. 

Another example is a victim-survivor making the choice to go through the challenge of filing a case against their abuser, and running into a wall when they are discouraged by their own family and friends who would prefer “peace,” afraid of possible repercussions such as expulsion and cancellation. 

It is clear that such responses to the affected person’s pursuit of justice only results in their added discomfort and distress, which likely ends in them withdrawing with a greater feeling of defeat in seeing how the odds seem to be stacked against them. In all these scenarios, the apparent pattern is that the victim-survivor is isolated, a recurring tactic employed to push them and their story into the margins. 

Given that this is the face met by those who have experienced sexual violence, it is no wonder that there are more who have yet to come forward. When one is gaslit, censored, and intimidated by those in power, it is done with the intention of not only silencing one person, but also many others who decide for themselves that they do not wish to meet the same fate as their fellow victim-survivors before they even try. 

Such is the survival of the patriarchal status quo. To sustain this system means to stomp on all attempts of justice because it needs to appear unattainable and perpetually out of reach, even more so for those who are on the lower end of power dynamics at play in various institutions, be it schools and workplaces, just to name a few. If stigma and discrimination are barriers that are already difficult to breach, the question of financial, legal, and psychosocial support is another that hangs over the heads of victim-survivors who cannot afford it. 

[OPINION] The myth of the individual narrative in the struggle against sexual violence

This is why the campaign for genuine safe spaces must reject the myth of the individual narrative. For a victim-survivor to share their story takes courage, and it is courage that spreads to others with shared experiences. While effective legislation and proactive anti-violence mechanisms in our schools are certainly crucial, beyond them, these are the most striking and lasting wins in the long-term struggle, for it is the kind that cannot be extinguished by predators and enablers alike who are counting on fear in order to continue the cycle of impunity that keeps them around. 

These combined efforts generate collective action, the driving force towards a reality where safe spaces are a given for all, especially for the most vulnerable sectors of society. To participate in collective action means to turn the tides for everyone, because it is built not on token rules and regulations or the legal triumphs of a select few, but on the will and power of those in the movement. 

To learn more and get involved, this Saturday, February 10, Enough Is Enough, in partnership with Partido Pandayan Organizing Committee, is holding a forum entitled Safer Spaces Now: Eradicating Campus Predators and Dismantling Enabling Institutions, with the aim of weaving all local struggles into a national and sectoral struggle. Those who wish to participate can reserve their slot via bit.ly/SaferSpacesForum. – Rappler.com

Sophia Beatriz Reyes, lead convenor of Enough Is Enough, likes to spend time writing, sewing, and going on walks.

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