Members of the Lasallian community convened last February 5 at the University Student Government (USG) Session Hall, third floor of the Br. Connon Hall, for a focus group discussion (FGD) centering on issues surrounding sexual harassment as part of the Advocaseries. Led by the FAST2018 batch government, representatives from the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) Office of Anti-Sexual Harassment (OASH) and the DLSU Office of Counseling and Career Services (OCCS) were present to outline institutional progresses being made in DLSU to combat sexual harassment.
Building up policy
With the help of UPD OASH’s representatives, the session closed in on hurdles faced in forming a competent anti-sexual harassment policy. UPD OASH Coordinator Dr. Teresa Paula de Luna, who also serves as an Associate Professor in the Department of Speech Communication and Theater Arts of the UPD’s College of Arts and Letters, delved into the details of UP’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Code—a policy mandatory for the entire UP system. “UP Manila, UP Visayas, [UP Los Baños], lahat sila, they comply [with] the code,” she explained.
UP’s sexual harassment code, which has been in existence since 1998, had been the school’s follow up to the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, also known as Republic Act (RA) 7877. De Luna hoped that the knowledge shared during the (FGD) would help establish a separate anti-sexual harassment code and office in DLSU that is “within the mission and vision” of the University.
Laws such as RA 7877, she said, can form the backbone for a potential anti-sexual harassment code. Such a code would not only help students file a criminal case outside campus, but also push an administrative case within the University.
De Luna emphasized that cases of sexual harassment in the University—which may occur in physical, visual, verbal, or online spaces—would be given more weight if students are assured that their complaints are “heard fairly”.
De Luna also highlighted how UP’s code was constructed with the work of the members of the community—cashiers, teachers, and even medical staff had a say in its creation.
Dissecting the code
While any “unwanted”, “unwelcome”, or “uninvited” behavior may count as harassment, it ultimately falls on the person to decide if the act is unwanted, De Luna noted. “It is in the perception of the person receiving that act,” she said, hence the necessity of careful analysis.
“It’s really very difficult and very complicated to really assess and appreciate the evidence when a sexual harassment complaint is filed,” De Luna explained.
Power relations also play an enormous role, De Luna added. Sexual harassment is presumed if a person in a position of power, such as professors or administrators, demand or request sexual favors, or even requests that are seemingly innocuous, regardless of whether the other party agrees to it.
Sexual harassment cases were also classified as light or grave offenses. The latter deals mostly in cases where there is physical contact, taking into consideration the victim’s religion or social status.
There is no limitation to body parts where sexual harassment may occur, De Luna emphasized. Even harmless but welcome actions may become harassment if repeatedly done.
LGBTQ+ individuals are also afforded special protection under the Code.
OCCS Director Dr. Elaine Marie Aranda praised the anti-sexual harassment system in UP. “I envy UP for having such a unit that covers sexual harassment,” she said.
Aranda hoped that the discussion will prove to be a vital first step in fighting against sexual harassment in DLSU. “We have to come with a proposed DLSU policy statement on sexual harassment, because with that coming from the top down, we can assure the community’s support,” she stressed.
Reviewing administrative procedures
During the program, students in attendance aired their concerns on DLSU’s own policies in dealing with harassment cases. One point for concern that was raised is the Student Discipline and Formation Office’s 30-day prescriptive period—the span of time alloted for a victim to file a case against offenders. Once 30 days pass, a student can no longer initiate any further proceedings within DLSU.
FAST2018 LA Representative Maegan Ragudo explained that the rule’s basis was that “the memory [of the student] might fail in terms of evidence.” De Luna contrasted this with OASH’s four-year prescriptive period that was based on the “readiness of the student” in confiding their experience to counselors. “The idea behind it is that [the student] usually [has] four years in college, right? So in [those] four years, [the student is] given the time, if [they] want to file a case,” she asserted.
Agreeing with De Luna, Ragudo emphasized that there is a need for “pro-student” anti-sexual harassment policies in the University.
“What we’re trying to do with the new policy that we are lobbying, maging pro-student yung policies, kasi right now nag-a-adhere palang po siya sa sexual harassment code, national policy code, so wala po kaming sariling code,” Ragudo shared.
(Right now, our policy adheres to national policy. We don’t have our own code.)
In a previous interview with The LaSallian, Ragudo explained that the USG aims to lobby for a strengthened Anti-Sexual Harassment and Discrimination policy. The plan outlined the establishment of an office that will collaborate with University administrators to streamline the reporting of such cases.