By Rosanna Javier
March 2011 marked the 100th year centennial of the celebration of International Women’s month. Gabriella included the elimination of violence against women in their 10-pt challenge to the Aquino administration. Despite the passage into law of Republic Act 9262 on Anti-Violence against Women and their Children Act of 2004 or VAWC, Davao City’s records on incidence of violence against women has steadily increased. Lorna Mandin of the Integrated Gender Development Division (IGDD) reports that in 2004 the city recorded 107 cases, 120 cases in 2005, 399 in 2006, 497 in 2008, and 611 in 2009, for a total of 2097 for six years.
In the past, like in rape cases, the victim is guilty until proven innocent and the overall process is skewed to the accused’s favor. In contrast, RA 9262 is supposed to be more gender sensitive and is pro-woman/pro-victim. RA 9262 brought to fore the phenomenon of “violence against women”. This piece of legislation supposedly adequately defends and protects women from their abusive aggressor’s physical, emotional, sexual, psychological and economic abuses. Those suffering from marital battery, a form of violence that is most prevalent in the Philippines (rape being the second), can now seek justice under RA 9262.
While rape may be a one-time occurrence, the abuses sustained by women (covered under RA 9262) are often continuing crimes happening over several stages of a woman’s life. This is a source of major concern. Women need to be more educated about RA 9262 - the types of abuses that can be committed against them, if they are at risk or are potentially at risk and how to seek help when indeed they are already violated.
Judge Adoracion P. Cruz-Avisado in her 2006 dissertation “Republic Act 9262 & the Women Victims of Violence in Davao City” claims that because of the sensitivity of the cases, a lot of violations of RA 9262 go unreported.” She surmises that “women victims of violence are oftentimes fearful for their lives and are still unempowered.”
Michael Tan, of Manila Health Action Information Network (HAIN), says that there exists a culture of silence and violence. He says that “Violence against women exists because we refuse to face up to the roots of the problem and our social norms continue to encourage violence against women.” Tan says Filipino men are only expected to be gentlemen, for as long as the woman is loyal and servile. When a woman starts talking or asking for too much, his “gentleman façade” is dropped giving way to machismo --- the woman must be put “in her place”, through a beating if needed.
Many times, it is the silence of the victim that makes the abuser feel more controlling and fearless. Many women are silenced by their fears and societal pressures. Many times it is not the acts of abuses that may devastate a woman but “It is the reaction of others who hear what happened to her. Most victims remain silent or anonymous because they rightly fear they will be misunderstood or judged” (Candace Walters, “Invisible Wounds; What Woman Should Know About Sexual Assault””).
Arugaan ng Kalakasan, a crisis intervention agency in Quezon City found that some of the reasons women keep silent about their experiences and remain in violent relationships are: "shame, the hope that the abusive partner will change, threats from or the moral ascendancy of the abuser, lack of financial resources, lack of support from relatives, concern for the children, and social pressure to keep the family together."
As a society we should be more belligerent against the violence that is committed against our women.
We must consider that the damage done to the victims is not limited to physical injuries. The wounds may be invisible and leave marks on the minds and souls of the women violated. We shouldn’t be insensitive just because we believe that violence can only happen to other women - the young, the slut and the immoral. In reality it doesn’t happen to those who we think deserves it. It can happen to anyone!
Why do we misunderstand VAW? Is it because we are in self denial and we prefer not to confront it because it is just too depressing? We choose to believe that violence against women does not happen that often and if it does happen, we blame the woman and claim that she should have been able to prevent it. Or are we just plain ignorant and thereby have become passive to the plight of these women?
Because of our apparent lack of concern for the victims, the victim becomes more victimized and the perpetrator is protected and goes scot free. The women violated may lack the maturity to deal with violence and their families may likewise lack the knowledge to help them. Sometimes the women are blamed for what happened to them and urged to forget the whole thing; to “move on”. Where would women get comfort if their family support systems are weak? Some women may self-destruct. She may turn to prostitution, promiscuity, alcohol and drugs.
It is the duty of family, social workers, hospitals and the community to report violations, to lend a voice to the victim even one who refuses to speak out. By allowing these violent and abusive men to thrive and not report about known offenses, we are by default consenting to the crimes. Cora Sta. Ana and Dee Dicen Hunt in their work “Filipino Women and Sexual Violence: Speaking Out and Providing Services” observes that “Increasingly, as the culture of violence is broken, women are coming forward and reporting their experiences of violation.“
Women who dare bring the matters to court are sometimes made to feel embarrassed about “coming out of silence”, sometimes even made to feel the shame by her more powerful aggressor. Some friends who are not sensitive and who don’t even know the complete story would contend, “What are you doing it for? You should just move on!” Hardly would anyone believe the atrocities that happened to the woman. Documented cases show that many women are suffering in silence because they do not want to put their families in shame.
Despite the drawbacks of an RA 9262 trial, there are some benefits to prosecuting. A trial can offer the victim a constructive outlet to ventilate her anger and pain. Research has shown that women who prosecute often recover from the trauma of the violence sooner that those who don’t. There is a satisfaction that everything has been undertaken so that the offender will not victimize or harm someone else.
It is hard for a woman to come out with her tragic story. “Prosecuting the abuser can be a frightening and frustrating experience”. The abuser may inflict further harm and harassment. The legal process can be seen as both intimidating and troublesome.
Sometimes the women are being convinced that it may not be worthwhile to have the offender convicted. In order for the victim to succeed, she needs to be aware of the court system. She should be well informed about her legal rights; the frustrations, delays and complications in the legal system; and be sufficiently prepared before she goes to court. Otherwise, her ill-preparation may result in an impaired testimony and she might just give up all together and lose the case by default. (Morton Bard and Dawn Sangrey, “The Crime Victim’s Book.)
“Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually….It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn.” M. Scott Peck
(Rosanna Javier is a regular columnist at Mindanao Journal and contributor at Gensan Exchange. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)