By: Elizabeth Angsioco
Published in Manila Standard Today
Dated November 6, 2010
The Karen Vertido rape case did not stop with the acquittal of the accused. Karen filed a complaint with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) against the Philippine government for violating her rights enshrined under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Women’s Convention). Bringing the case to this international body is a brave act that has put to test the Women’s Convention as an important instrument for women who have been victimized by State agents, in Karen’s case, the justice system.
Karen won the case! CEDAW, on July 16, about two and a half years after the filing of the complaint (much shorter than the nine years it took for Philippine courts to decide) ruled that the State failed in fulfilling its obligations and VIOLATED Karen’s rights under the Women’s Convention. CEDAW, among other things recommended that Karen be compensated by the State for the violation.
The decision included important discussions on myths about rape that appeared to have influenced the judge’s verdict on Karen’s case. These myths are all gender-based stereotypes but are so widely believed, create a mindset that discriminates against women, further aggravate their situation and prevent justice to prevail. Such myths should be eliminated if government is to protect women’s rights. These include:
There should be proof of resistance against the attacker. Different people react to situations differently. This is the same with rape. Some get very scared, immobilized, some struggle physically, others submit against their will, others plead, shout, try to escape or exhibit a mix of these reactions. In short, there is no standard reaction to rape. Why then should the court establish proof of resistance when the anti-rape law does not require it? What if the woman is drugged, drunk, or under threat/believes she is under threat of being harmed or even killed? What if the perpetrator is the woman’s boss, a relative, a politician or someone with power over her? Would these mean that the woman is not raped? Proof of resistance should be unnecessary in rape cases.
Only timid, easily cowed women can be raped. We have enough cases of assertive, educated women who filed rape cases. This myth forgets the fact that rape is gender-based violence, meaning, it is committed against women because of the general perception that men are stronger and more powerful by virtue of their being males. Thus, some known, strong women get raped by men who are below their social and economic status. Why? Because there are men who believe that they have the power over any woman.
This myth also puts the women’s character into question. Some courts rule against women who appear to them as too liberated, assertive, or modern. As if they cannot be raped. Woe to women perceived to have a loose character! Proving that you have been raped is very tough. Many times, because of this myth, victims feel that they raped twice over, by the courts of law, the second time around.
Women are raped by unknown men. This myth has been proven wrong by the big number of rape cases against boyfriends, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, even relatives of complainants in contrast to only a few against ‘unknown men lurking in the dark.’
However, a dangerous flipside of this myth is the bias that if the accused is known to the woman, it could well be consensual sex and not rape. Not surprisingly, this alibi, known as the sweetheart defense, is usually used by the accused and has continually put victims in a more negative light. Since rape cases are usually committed with only the two parties present, proving rape becomes more difficult. The fact that victims know the accused does not translate to consent to the sex act. To further understand rape as gender-based violence, two very important concepts should be considered—consent and power.
The very essence of rape as a violation of the person is the absence of consent. It is unimportant if the complainant is a housewife, a student, or a liberal, modern woman. No matter what the woman’s background is, if she did not concede to the act, it is rape.
Moreover, as explained, it is wrong to look for proof of resistance on the woman’s part to establish absence of consent. The woman’s word should weigh heavily in determining consent. Because of the general resistance to file cases, when a woman says she was raped, chances are, she indeed was.
As I previously wrote, rape is not merely a crime of passion and much more than sexual abuse. Rape is a violation of the woman’s entire personhood and a manifestation of men’s perceived power over women. I will be bold to say that rape is the ultimate expression of men’s “ownership” of women’s bodies. The mere fact that there are men out there believing that they can rape women is in itself proof of unequal power relations between the sexes. Rape is about POWER.
If we are to change existing mindset on rape, government, as the duty bearer in protecting women’s rights can do many things including:
- Amending the Anti-Rape Law to include: removing force, threat or intimidation as an element of rape and replacing this with lack of consent; ensuring that proof of resistance of any form will not be required of the complainants; and increasing age of consent from 12 to 17;
- Allocating appropriate funds to properly implement the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998;
- Ensuring that court proceedings are not delayed; and
- Implementing appropriate training for judges, court personnel, and other law enforcement officers to better understand rape and remove myths surrounding it.
My organization is helping D, a girl raped by her stepfather when she was 15. She is now 20 and trying hard to build a life on her own. Still, her case remains unresolved. We are hoping that like Karen, D will also be vindicated.