What would you do if you found out that your daughter was harassed?
My daughter and two female friends went camping recently. Just before they boarded the banca that would take them to an island, she sent me a text message saying that they were told there was no signal there. She did that to make sure I do not worry about her because she knows I would check on her whenever she was away from home. I felt uneasy that night, but I did not want to send out “bad vibes” so I just said a short prayer for their safety.
Friendly or Wily?
When she came home, she said they happened to pitch their tent near a large group of men—around 17 of them, some in their 40s she guessed. At first, one of the men helped them build a fire and then others started offering them fruits and other food. As the night wore on, one of the men walked over to them and offered them beer. The bottles were already open and when they refused, the man asked them what they expected him to do with the beer he offered them. The girls were polite the whole time even as they refused the men’s offers.
A few minutes after they entered their tent to sleep, they heard noises outside and a man’s voice, mumbling something. They kept still and did not go out, and when they awoke early the next morning, they found a man sleeping beside their tent, one of those who probably got drunk the night before. They moved their tent away from the men and had breakfast in the water.
My daughter said everything would have been fun, except for those men. She and her friends were looking forward to that weekend for weeks and those men almost ruined it. She said she had experienced harassment before but not as threatening as this one.
I went through similar experiences in my younger days but things were different then. There were times when I actually blamed myself. I had a colleague who kept asking for a kiss, I had to whip out my cutter to show him I meant it when I said no.
An older colleague took me to one of the sleazy places where women undressed. I took off in a huff—bewildered and confused because I was just being polite when I agreed to have dinner with him in what I thought would be one of the restaurants close to the school where we taught.
A former teacher was asked by my department chair what would make him accept our department’s offer to transfer. He said he’d consider it only if the offer included me. I thought it was just a joke.
At around the same time, I signed on as volunteer researcher and I was sent out of town to observe how the new constitution was explained to different communities. The man who sat beside me on the plane said the place I was assigned to stay was not safe for women, so he offered to take me to a convent. There were a few other women my age who were vacationing at that time, so I thought I was safe. On my last night, we all decided to sleep at the reception area. We took down the cushions from the sofas so we could sleep on the floor. After midnight, I felt someone lie beside me and put an arm around me the way one embraces a pillow. I turned over on my stomach to protect myself and was unable to sleep the rest of the night. There was only one male in the convent—the priest!
When is it harassment?
These people who make us uncomfortable come in all shapes, sizes and genders! Sometimes, they are so good at it, their moves are so subtle and hardly noticeable—which leaves us wondering whether we read too much into the gesture or the words.
If an elderly woman in authority suddenly decides to drop the only other female member of a 3-man team (the one dropped having been tasked with documenting an activity that will be replicated many times), thereby leaving her alone with the male member for two nights at a place hours away from their activity venue (which happens to be near a busy airport with hourly flights to and from Manila), would you consider it harassment?
If such words or actions cause discomfort, then it is harassment! The law against harassment describes a situation where the perpetrator takes undue advantage of his position, making it seem like harassment happens only in certain environments. However, the Philippine Commission on Women, in Policy Number 10, explains how other laws expand the meaning of sexual harassment.
It may be comforting to know there are laws against it, but harassment still happens, not just in school or in the workplace, but even at camp sites and even on the streets. Perpetrators may be good-looking or ugly, young or old, male or female. So, what do you do if you find out that a loved one was harassed? I decided to write about it and speak against it!
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.