The front cover of Time Magazine for its last issue of 2017 shows a group of brave women who eventually found the courage to speak out against the sexual exploitation and harassment they suffered at the hands of abusive males and made the hashtag #MeToo trend on social media. There is a growing movement to name and shame the women abusers by going public, talking to the media and signing affidavits. Women have been trying to expose the abuse for many years using other hashtags but none has been so successful as #MeToo.
It came to light when some women began to speak out against the well-known Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. That became world news and many more women then found the courage to tell their story also to the media. He was forced to leave his position and go abroad and has since lost all prestige and power.
According to Twitter, as many as 1.7 million women and men used the #MeToo hashtag in 85 countries around the world. Many better-known media personalities and politicians have stepped down or have been fired from their posts as a result of a number of similar allegations being made against them.
This is a movement that could greatly help the dignity of women and to change the male perception of them as objects or lesser human beings that can be used to satisfy their lustful desires and whims. This is a challenge to men to respect and to speak out against abuse and sexual harassment where they know of it.
They ought to take a stand on behalf of women and children and to teach their own children to do likewise. The next generation could be very different if they did so and break down the machismo-dominated attitude that makes some men believe that they are superior and can abuse those weaker and more vulnerable than them. The culture of silence and looking the other way when adults know of sexual abuse and harassment have to change. It is making them complicit and as it is tantamount to approving the abuse. This kind of social media and community education is vital to empower women and children.
In the Philippines, the public attitude is slowly changing from indifference to child sexual abuse to that of concern and knowledge of how awful a crime it is and the need to report it and take fast action to help children and women victims to get help. This is not coming from the leadership but from the grassroots. Local and national leadership support the sex industry and the abuse of women and children as witnessed by the local government giving operating permits and licenses to sex bars and clubs where children and women are sexually exploited with impunity. The national leadership allows it despite that fact the sex bars are rife with illegal drugs. They are not a battlefield for the war on drugs. That can be easily won by legislation canceling all the operating permits and closing them down.
There is the growing knowledge that child sexual abuse is a serious crime especially by children themselves. When eight-year-old Jessica was on her way to school in Bacong, Bataan, her neighbor Reynaldo Quiambao accosted her and asked her to go buy him a cigarette. She did it and when she came back to him he took her inside his house, into a bedroom and raped her. She was crying and begging to be let go. After the act of sexual abuse, he gave her twenty pesos (about $0.40 ). She went to school and was crying. Her teacher told her to stop crying and asked why but she was afraid of her teacher. When she went home she was crying and courageously told her elder sister Juliet. That was in August 2011. Her mother was very angry and immediately they went to the police and reported the incident. They responded and as it was within the legal time frame the accused was arrested and jailed under the inquest procedure.
The family sought the help of the Preda Foundation legal team and since Jessa was still traumatized she was admitted to the Preda Home for Girls. There, she felt safe and secure from her attacker and was welcomed by the other children who had similar experiences. She took the Emotional Expression Therapy and overcame the trauma and began to be happy and play and study again in Preda. She was empowered even at that early age and she was able to testify in court and point out the abuser and tell her story. It was like another #MeToo.
However, it took from February 2012 until October 2017 for the court to decide that the accused was guilty and he received a life sentence. Jessa is now back with her family and continuing her studies with the help of Preda Foundation. It is a happy conclusion to a very serious and traumatic experience for the child who will remain with her all her life but yet she was able to cope with it and overcome the negative effects. The sentence to life in prison for her abuser will help her believe that justice has been done and she has won the greatest victory of her young life.
We need many more such victories. There has to be more empowerment of young and older children and women to enable them to speak out and tell when they are abused. It is shocking that statistics show one-in-four children worldwide are victims of sexual harassment or abuse. Every minute a woman is raped. It is all around us. We just have to find it ourselves and take action to defend the victims.