UniversityDrawing the line on sexual harassment: Is DLSU a safe space?
Drawing the line on sexual harassment: Is DLSU a safe space?

Recognized universally as a form of violence against women (VAW), sexual harassment has affected women across varying countries, socio-economic classes, and cultural backgrounds. In the Philippines, prior legislation such as Republic Act (RA) 7877 or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 sought to provide victims with avenues to seek justice.

However, recent incidents online of women—students, in particular—baring tales of their experiences at the hands of harassers only further highlights the importance of preventing any form of harassment from occurring in the first place, and the growing demand to ensure safe spaces exist for all, especially within academic institutions.

 

What counts as a safe space?

In general, a safe space pertains to an environment that is free from any form of VAW. Achieving this requires the implementation of programs and policies specific to an organization or institution. In the case of universities like DLSU, Gabriela Youth University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman member Kat Estrella recommends that they begin by taking the necessary steps to ensure safety through the creation of an anti-sexual harassment office that directly caters to students’ reports and concerns regarding VAW cases.

Another is by implementing an anti-sexual harassment code that the office can abide by and by establishing a “gender office” that can organize events, activities, and discussions in relation to raising awareness regarding the issue.

 

 

Although these steps must be institutionalized to fully take effect, Estrella—who also serves as a Councilor in the UP Diliman University Student Council—believes that students should take the lead in initiating change. “There is actually so much we can do to create safe spaces because [VAW] is systemic and cultural. When we are trying to fight something that massive, a lot of things have to be done. We can start with ourselves—the students,” she argues.

Members of Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) share Estrella’s view, having actively involved themselves in lobbying for new national legislation and university-level policies. “Well, actually, Tapat has been part of bigger anti-sexual harassment initiatives for the past two years,” Lance Dela Cruz, Tapat Vice President for External Affairs, shares. Last January, the political party had disseminated statements online tackling the recent sexual harassment incidents, calling for aid to be provided to victims on campus and stressing the need for DLSU to be a safe space.

 

University policy

Appendix L of the DLSU Student Handbook outlines the University’s policies for deterring sexual harassment incidents. One of these measures is through the creation of a Committee on Decorum and Investigation, as required by RA 7877. The committee is composed of representatives from different sectors in the Lasallian community, namely the Faculty Association President, the University Student Government (USG) President, the Employee’s Association President, and the Vice Chancellor for Academics who chairs the group.

USG President Gabbie Perez explains that the committee convenes only on a per need basis, usually when a case is filed to the Student Discipline Formation Office (SDFO). However, she reveals that there has not been a sexual harassment case submitted to SDFO in recent time. “But of course, the question is if there are [unreported cases] in the Lasallian community. There have been so many informal reports online,” she argues.

As stipulated in the handbook, the committee is also responsible for holding consultations with different sectors of the University, as well as conducting activities that raise awareness on issues related to sexual harassment. However, Perez admits that as of late, they have not held any activities for raising awareness.

She shares an experience from last year where the group hosted a free class on krav maga, a martial art primarily used for self-defense. Unfortunately, the student turnout for the event was dismal, and the committee has since looked into finding ways to increase participation from the community.

“We’re still trying to evaluate how we’re supposed to be doing these activities because I don’t think the regular talks and seminars would work—there really has to be a different approach when it comes to issues such as this,” Perez elaborates.

 

The need to speak up

The recent viral incidents of victims opening up about their experiences online, anonymously or not, only illustrate one thing: that there is still much that needs to be done to encourage people to speak up through proper channels.

Perez reveals that last January, after The LaSallian published an article on a recent sexual harassment incident that went viral, the USG was also in the middle of disseminating a University-wide survey that inquired about students’ life on campus. To their surprise, some of the respondents reported being sexually harassed inside University premises, but due to the survey not requiring DLSU emails, they could not reach out to the victims directly.

The Legislative Assembly (LA), in their attempt of drafting a manifesto on sexual harassment, also stumbled upon similar results. In a survey they conducted in February, 10.4 percent of respondents claim to have experienced some form of sexual misconduct on campus, regardless if it was from fellow students, staff, or even from their own professors. As of press time, the manifesto, which was approved last February 4, has yet to be disseminated online.

“There have been reports; it’s just that now that we know there are instances [of] this, we have to take the necessary steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. I’ve actually been talking [to the] Dean [of Student Affairs] about what we could do about it, and we’re also reviewing the grievance process,” the USG President explains.

Unknown to most students, the grievance process is not solely for academic concerns; one can also file a grievance case against faculty or administrators on the grounds of sexual harassment. Perez advises students not to hesitate approaching the SDFO if they have concerns they want to raise.

Dela Cruz cites that students personally approached their organization to speak up about their experiences on sexual harassment. They, however, wish to remain anonymous because they do not want to “garner attention,” he explains. He also adds that victims refused to come forward out of fear that the perpetrator would go after them, possibly even filing charges of libel against them.

“I think one of the [reasons] why it’s anonymous is because, well, students don’t feel that they would get justice with the current system in place,” he reasons. Dela Cruz believes that the system should be amended in order to create an avenue of support for victims of harassment and discrimination.

However, from a perspective outside campus grounds, many still turn to social media as an outlet to voice out their experiences. Estrella claims that most victims do this because they have “lost trust in the justice system,” much like how students are hesitant in filing a formal case.

Numerous other problems arise with the case of sexual harassment that make it difficult for victims to speak up. “Until today, victim blaming and internalized misogyny is a problem we face. Victims look for alternative ways to somehow achieve the justice taken away from them,” Estrella states.

The LaSallian ​reached out to Chief Legislator Stella Santos for further comments on the plans of action of the LA, but as of press time, she has not responded to the publication’s request.