It stops now: Protect your students, not your reputation

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The gun itself is neither evil nor good.

NEVER AGAIN shall educational institutions sweep sexual violence cases under the rug.

It has always been a David-versus-Goliath situation when survivors of sexual violence talk about their experiences, and especially when they demand justice. It has always been the victim versus the abuser and the institution that was supposed to protect the victims in the first place.

Early in June, the viral hashtag #HijaAko surfaced on social media along with many young women and alumnae of different schools coming forward with their experiences of sexual harassment and assault under the roofs of their institutions. Alumnae from well-known and mostly exclusive Catholic private schools such as Miriam College High School and St. Theresa’s College of Quezon City criticized how school administrators poorly handled their demands for justice after being subjected to harassment in the hands of faculty members. This situation has been happening for decades because of institutions who chose to sanction the survivors rather than hold abusers accountable.

In 2017, the Student Welfare and Development Board came under fire after allegations of “victimblaming” and an order to remove a social media post by a Thomasian who shared her experience of sexual harassment.

Her harasser was later on identified as a graduating engineering student. The victim’s brother expressed dismay over the poor handling of the sexual harassment case by school officials.

In 2018, Diane Arcena, a student of the College of Science, slammed administrators’ leniency in handling her physical abuse case after they imposed a “compassionate approach” penalty on her abuser and fellow student, Kyle Viray. The investigating committee subjected him to 250 hours of community service and he was barred from attending the graduation rites. It was only after another victim emerged when Viray was kicked out.

On July 2, Fabel Pineda, a 15-year old girl who accused cops of rape, was shot dead by gunmen aboard a motorbike as she was on her way home from the police station.

Survivors of abuse and sexual harassment have found refuge on social media because institutions failed to provide them security and a proper avenue.

Movements such as #HijaAko and MeToo are already outcomes of institutions’ refusal to act efficiently on harassment cases and the lack of a proper response to those who demand justice. What is more enraging is that there are already laws to protect victims, such as the Safe Spaces Act or Republic Act (RA) 11313 and the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 (RA 7877).

Women’s rights advocate Lidy Nacpil lamented that women’s issues have always been a class issue, and said calling out abusers online entailed a sense of responsibility. Women who came forward with their experiences online also entailed a degree of privilege. The poor especially have everything to lose if they speak out – financial security, employment, or a family. If there are poorly handled abuse and sexual harassment cases in exclusive private schools, how about underfunded public schools in remote areas? That is why it is important for women to speak now and demand accountability, so the mishandling of sexual harassment cases would once and for all be acknowledged and stopped.

Shaping future women leaders is not done through conformity but through empowerment. Empowerment is achieved by teaching young women to question and not just follow, by teaching them that they have a voice that matters and have the right to be heard, and by encouraging them to speak and lead in a space where they can both continue to learn and feel safe.

Survivors of sexual harassment should have never experienced abuse in the first place. These abuses continue because of the unwillingness of some school administrators to investigate, understand the survivors’ trauma and experience, and provide safe spaces for their students.

School administrators are as much accountable as abusers when they refuse to listen and give justice to the survivors.

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