Rape is rape

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article recounts an experience of a traumatizing form of sexual assault. Readers are advised to proceed with caution.

I consider myself as someone who is sex-positive—seeing sex and sexuality as concepts that are open and progressive. Exploring my sexuality right after high school shaped how I understood people as their own realized self, then engaging myself in sexual activities as a temporary relief from reality. Sadly, talking about it is taboo, especially in the Philippines—a dominantly Catholic country that strictly adheres to customs and traditions.

I’ve been almost shameless about my intimate activities, and I’ve used dating applications to look for sexual partners before. The reason I kept using these applications was not that I wanted to feel good, but because I wanted to stop feeling bad. I thought engaging in those activities would make me feel better. It did—for a while.

Then one night, I went on a dating application because I again wanted to not feel bad. A faceless profile messaged me if I was open to trading photos. After agreeing, I invited him to my place, and he asked me if he could bring a friend. I agreed, but only if his friend sent his own photo as well. Thirty minutes later, they arrived at my place, and we did what we intended to do.

Until I felt uncomfortable and I asked them to stop, but they didn’t. They said I seemed to like it because of my biological reaction—and that I consented to it. Though I asked them again to stop, I was outnumbered and afraid. That night, I deleted the application and wrapped myself in the thickest comforter I could find.

Weeks after that encounter, whenever I cough, my lower region felt like it was burning. When someone tries to hug me from behind, I flinch—until now.

I have never reported it because I have never acknowledged what it was until recently. I was afraid of reporting it to the authorities because who would believe that I would get raped?

Why didn’t I cry, yell, or fight back?

Realizing that there is no manual about how I should’ve acted, I learned that there are no written rules on how a rape victim should act. More so, the rape of a man is almost taboo, even in our justice system.

In the Philippines, the Anti-Rape Law of 1997 states that “rape is committed when a person has forced, threatened or intimidated a woman to have sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual assault.” The gaps within our justice system seclude people—constrained by cultural norms and stigmas—and perpetuate a hostile environment where victims are afraid to seek help.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority indicated that there were 2,162 rape cases reported to the Philippine National Police in 2019 and 1,656 in 2018. The statistics show that the horrors are rampant and that the rape pandemic continues to rage on.

Only in 1997 did the law provide recognition to the rape of males, both by males and females. However, male rape is only considered sexual assault. Therefore it gives a lesser penalty of six to 12 years compared to the same crime committed against females which entails life imprisonment. Gender inequality in the country’s anti-rape laws fails to recognize that trauma has no gender.

With Congress approving on the third and final reading House Bill No. 7836 which seeks to raise the age for statutory rape from 12 to 16, justice is brought a step closer to victims. I still believe that the law could be further amended to ensure all victims, regardless of gender, will get the justice they deserve.

Ignorance toward male rape not only neglects men but also harms women by perpetuating the stigma that “female” is equal to “victim”, which hampers our ability to see women as independent and empowered. Likewise, silence on male victims underpins unhealthy expectations about men and their supposed invulnerability. Toxic masculinity is a double-edged sword that does not only endanger women but also other men.

It took me three years to gather the courage to speak about it. While some take decades or never come forward, it does not lessen the horror we have experienced. When we stay silent to protect ourselves, we perpetuate our isolation. There are many of us, hiding in the shadows because of shame and fear, although I hope someday, it would be easier to come forward or, better yet, to have no reason to stay hidden.

By Oliver Barrios

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