First published in Facebook.
Yesterday, November 25, was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. And on this day, November 26, 17 years ago and as a sophomore in high school, I was inches away from getting raped, or who knows what else could have happened. I woke up to that slow, encircling touch around my left nipple. Forgive me for disclosing this too much of information. Or to some, this may just be a small thing. But for a 14-year old, in a predominantly Catholic and conservative country like the Philippines, it was the whole world crashing down on her.
For someone who was a valedictorian in grade school, and someone who was running for honors, being the top third student at one time among 500+ students during her first year in her new high school, then sliding down to the very bottom of the class during the second quarter of the next schoolyear after this incident happened, it was quite a big thing and a very serious matter. But yes, it did happen. And this whole ordeal crushed this girl into pieces then, stuck with the thought that she could not talk to anyone about it.
This is the first time that I have disclosed that one very important detail. Before this, I would write blog entries about that day (“Desiderata” and “Madaling araw na pero gising pa”), about the feelings and emotions that came with it, and write and talk to friends about the aftermath of that one single moment, trying my best not to cry just at the thought of it, but never really the actual act. Even those took years — seven, at the least, I think — for me to have the courage, and the trust, to disclose to people whom I consider close enough for me to entrust personal matters with.
I was 14. Anyone who knew me then would know I wasn’t even attractive based on the dominant popular Filipino culture’s standards. But it happened to me. And it could happen anywhere and to anyone else. Because rape or sexual harassment is not only inflicted on the skimpy-dressed or the “balingkinitan” (slender) or the “kaakit-akit” (attractive) types of women, children, or even men. Because raping someone or sexually harassing someone is a choice for those who are carrying out these acts. They can choose to do it or they can choose not to.
I am not writing this now to shame the person who did the act or who knew about what happened but had not taken any steps to address the situation. Neither am I writing this to catch attention. I do not even intend to file any charges anymore after all these years.
I am writing this so that any of you who might read this would, at the least, gain more consciousness and caution in their constant interactions and encounters with women, and with children, who are most prone and vulnerable to these kinds of attacks or aggressive behaviors. That this may serve as an initial step in changing that rape culture that hovers among many’s consciousness. I already actually find my own justice in that.
Yesterday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It was designated by the United Nations two years after the incident happened to me. It may have come a few years late, and the struggle may be protracted as with many other things, but it’s never too late for us to change this rape culture into something that does not destroy peoples’ lives and that would make us productive citizens of our countries. It is everyone’s duty to build that kind of society.
Respect. That is all that is asked of us. You may even save someone else’s life by holding on to that one important virtue. I guess in my case, I was level-headed enough not to take away my life at that young age. But just imagine thousands of other children and women who have undergone the same, or worse and more painful, experiences who did not find the strength to at least take that one step to breathe just one more time.
This is in honor of all the women and children who may have or may not have endured. This is also in honor of the revolutionary Mirabal sisters, whose story I have come to know when I had the chance to read “In the Time of the Butterflies” back in 2006, and whose brutal assassination in 1960 on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo, served as the basis of why we now commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.