violence against women

[OPINION] Women are more than victims needing personal protection

Athena Charanne R. Presto
[OPINION] Women are more than victims needing personal protection

Illustration by Janina Malinis

'Women are not special beings that need to be shielded. Protecting women, especially in a patronizing and infantilizing way, distracts us from recognizing that women are human beings deserving of respect just like everyone else — drunk or otherwise.'

Social media erupted with condemnations of sexual violence when the Philippine National Police labeled the death of Christine Dacera a “rape-slay” case without citing any conclusive medico-legal report, or an autopsy. The hashtag #protectdrunkgirls then went viral, as social media users pushed back against those blaming victims for getting drunk.

While questions remain regarding the facts of the case, the issues regarding sexual violence merit a conversation of their own. 

Victimized more than victims

The pushback against victim-blaming is a moral imperative. The reminder that getting drunk does not equate to consent can never be overstated – especially in a country where many use the idea of sexual harassment to tell women to cover up. However, we also need to remind each other to resist in a way that doesn’t box women into being passive victims needing protection.

We need to exercise great caution in how we frame our calls to action. When we focus too much — and only — on the victim rather than the perpetrator, we risk contributing to greater surveillance over women’s bodies, ultimately constituting a double burden on them as the sexually abused and the perpetually observed. 

The danger in confusing victimhood with victimization is that we might fall into the very logic we want to destroy. Painting women as damsels needing saving shifts the focus into being victims rather than being made victims. The former is an identity, while the latter is a process. We therefore need to be careful against conveying that women are passive beings needing special attention.

Sexual violence is done by those who feel entitled over the bodies of others, and the call to protect drunk girls may embolden constant scrutiny over women’s bodies and actions in the misguided act of protecting. This scrutiny may dangerously bleed into men’s audacity to police how women conduct themselves and deal with others.

Cooperation more than protection

Women are not special beings that need to be shielded. Protecting women, especially in a patronizing and infantilizing way, distracts us from recognizing that women are human beings deserving of respect just like everyone else — drunk or otherwise.

We need to frame sexual violence as something done by criminals than something that just happens to women. Taking the perpetrators out of the conversation makes it harder for us to demand accountability and justice. It has been more of “she was raped” than “they raped her” or “teach your daughter to say no” than “teach your sons that no means no.” Reminding girls to stay safe is an inadequate response vis-à-vis clear manifestations of who we should be dealing with.

Dismantling a patriarchal system that forces women under the arms of those deemed more powerful will certainly not be easy. The challenge is multiplied in a country where a President calls his daughter a drama queen for coming out as a rape survivor and tells military men that they can rape up to 3 women each. But the task can be achieved by banding together as equals, with no one inherently considered weaker than the rest. 

Women do not need protection per se, but cooperation to smash the system that has forced us into a box labeled “VULNERABLE.” Demanding justice and making perpetrators of sexual violence accountable need collective efforts. For this reason, allies are needed more than defenders.

Must Read

What we know so far: The death of Christine Dacera

What we know so far: The death of Christine Dacera
Systemic more than individual

Sexual violence does not occur only in particular unfortunate circumstances. We have seen in past movements like #MeToo and #HijaAko that sexual violence happens to women no matter what they wear, where they are, or who they are with.

While specific laws are rightfully in place to ensure women and children’s safety, these are not the same as calling for drunk girls to be protected. These laws are corrective measures against a misogynist culture, whereas the bid to protect drunk girls rides on a culture that suffocates women. There is something fundamentally concerning about playing on the stigma of women getting drunk, as if to swallow the mistaken idea that downing a bottle of alcohol is a central issue in women’s safety.  

Sexual violence happens to women because they are continuously rendered weak, no matter the circumstance. Therefore, fighting sexual violence does not need any qualifier — not drunk, not naked, not alone — especially when qualifiers contribute to the stigma against women who do not conform to traditional gender norms.

The problem is systemic. Putting emphasis on women’s choices and actions individualizes a solution that should be systemic. Us women are more than victims needing personal protection. We are victimized human beings needing cooperation to change the system that makes us vulnerable and lets our abusers off the hook. – Rappler.com

Ash Presto is a sociologist researching and standing with women and youth in the margins. She teaches Sociology at the University of the Philippines and sits as an officer at various civil society organizations, among them the Youth Against Sexual Harassment. Ash tweets at @sosyolohija.