By Angela Fajardo
It’s not always easy to figure out what to do when somebody tells you that they’ve been sexually harassed. More often than not, this person will tell you that they don’t want to make a big deal out of this situation. But, as an ally of sexual harassment victims, you should understand what to do and how to react when a friend comes to you and shares their story. During a roundtable discussion with Sen. Risa Hontiveros, along with UST Hiraya, UP Babaylan, and Grrrl Gang Manila, we learned the best ways to handle this kind of crucial encounter.
Deciding on what to do next is probably one of the hardest things to do after a traumatic incident. As an ally, the first thing to ask is what the victim wants to do about the situation. According to UST’s first intersectional feminist organization known as UST Hiraya, “Ang unang-una po naming itatanong is ano yung gusto nilang gawin. We take action based on what the victim wants or is comfortable with.” This is vital because you can never force anyone, especially someone in a fragile state, to do something no matter what you may think is right.
Despite the need to speak up, it’s also a fact that not everyone is brave enough to do so. If this is the case, Vince of UP Babaylan, the premier LGBT students' support and advocacy group in all campuses of the University of the Philippines, states, “It’s really true na hindi lahat ng mga tao ay gustong palakihin siya. So, what we focus on is the healing of the victims. Ano ba 'yung makakatulong sa kanila para mag- heal, para maayos 'yung sarili niya?” At this point, simply having a friend to unload to could go a long way when it comes to someone’s healing process.
However, helping your friend overcome trauma does not end with you just listening. “Yes we can listen, but we have to empower the victims because the harassers will continue to do it to other women, to other LGBTs. So you have to make a stand,” claims Grrrl Gang Manila, a feminist group that aims to create a safe, non- judgemental space for women in the Philippines. Assuring your friend that what they are going through and what they are feeling is valid and that they could act on it can help them to stand against these heinous acts. “They can do something about it and when you do something about it, such things can be prevented. There will be no additional victims,” they add.
To stand up against the monsters and shed light on such taboo topics will not only help stop harassment but will also prevent it from ever happening again. Contrary to what victims may initially feel, Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros who passed the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act believes, “Rape is the biggest thing that can happen against a woman. It’s the biggest invasion and violation of her space.” And no violation should ever be tolerated or ignored. In her closing statement, she tells us, “Baka pwede pang magmalakas- loob kasi there are a few more established ways of fighting back. One way that we can take the monsters out of the dark, make them visible, and fight them is to name them.”
And because of this, Sen. Hontiveros authored Senate Bill No. 1326 A.K.A. the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act, which aims to prohibit and penalize gender-based harassment in public spaces. “We need official formal recognition and one of the spaces to make it official and formal is really the law. It’s the court, it’s the Justice System,” the senator emphasized.
In the meantime, the Office of Sen. Hontiveros partnered up with organizations like UST Hiraya and UP Babaylan to go around Metro Manila to inform establishments like bars and clubs about the this initiative and put Safe Space Zone posters which signifies the management’s responsibility to prevent or stop harassment and discrimination in their establishment. In Metro Manila, there are currently 20 existing Safe Spaces. Together, we can spread the message and create more.
Read more about Safe Spaces here or visit Sen. Hontiveros' Facebook page for more updates.