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[Ed’s Note: We are not here to weigh in on the issue, to validate the incident, or even to say if the institution’s decision was correct or wrong. This is to point out (one of the reasons) why many survivors of sexual harassment choose to say silent. This is to encourage them to come forward and file a complaint.]

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Choosing whether or not to report sexual assault is like a double-edged sword. Once survivors choose to stay silent, they have to face the consequences alone and they forego justice.

When they eventually choose to come forward, people will try to discredit them by asking: “Why only now?”

On the other hand, when they do speak up and report immediately, they are met with doubt, skepticism, and blame. What they were wearing and how much they drank are the first questions to come out of people’s mouths, as if those information are even relevant.

In sexual assault cases, it seems like women can never win.

Just last week, a Facebook post from a certain Geo Celestino went viral on social media. “My sister was bullied by University of Santo Tomas Office for Student Affairs, namolestiya ang kapatid ko at siya pa ang sinisi,” Celestino declared.

He then recounted everything about the incident in detail, which we will leave out from here for you to discover and read on your own. Here’s the link.

The post spread like wildfire, and one question kept coming out of people’s mouth: “Why didn’t she report it?”

I can give you countless reasons why women don’t come forward. But it all boils down to one answer: It’s because of how they are treated when they do.

The sad reality is that when survivors of sexual assaults report, they aren’t always believed nor taken seriously. Most of the time, they are even blamed for what happened to them. Remember when Senator Tito Sotto publicly blamed a woman on his noontime show for being molested because she was drunk?

People casually ask survivors ‘“Why didn’t you report it?” as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. Reporting you’ve been sexually assaulted and taking legal actions about it will require you to dredge up painful incidents again and again, recount it to the public, and most importantly, face your molesters again.

Instead of listening or supporting them, a lot of people continue to doubt, dismiss, and accuse them of just wanting attention.

The UST student who was allegedly molested is getting a lot of flak for documenting the assault and posting it online. People are calling her “famewhore” for posting the photo online, people are asking why didn’t she call the guy out instead of taking a photo.

But she’s not the only one to have done this. Recently, women are starting to take it upon themselves to get themselves evidences against their molesters. Because without it, how could anyone believe them?

This is exactly where the problem lies: perpetrators are innocent until proven guilty but sexual assault survivors are considered liars and attention seekers until the assault is proven true.

But the question is this: How the hell do you even prove sexual assault? This is why you can’t blame women who resort to taking photos or even videos of the assault, and posting it on social media. They know full well that people will doubt their stories, so what they do is endure the assault, gather courage to take out their phones to take photos or videos—the way people use dashcams to take photos of counter-flowing vehicles. They cling to those photos they never wanted to take in the first place, hoping that people will finally believe them.

Pretty fucked up when you think about it, right?

Days after the post went viral, University of Santo Tomas released a statement saying they “adopted measures as may be reasonably necessary to discharge such duty in order to protect its students from unfair or false accusation” and that “the facts and evidence that Mr. Geo Celestino posted in his Facebook account do not conform to the records on file.”

Right off the bat, the statement from the academic institution sounds like a band-aid solution to quiet the public down. It sounds like it was only released a statement for the sake of releasing a statement.

UST also said that “they stand in locio parentis” over their students, meaning they protect their students as if they were their own children. While the school very well protected the alleged perpetrator as if he were its own, we can’t say the same about how the girl was treated.

Do parents ask their child who complained about being molested to delete the evidence of a sexual assault? Do parents make their child say sorry to someone who touched them without their consent? Sexual assault is scary; but knowing that academic institutions that claim to act as your “parents” protect your perpetrators makes everything even scarier.

Just like most women, I grew up being told not to get raped. I grew up believing that I should not wear skirts that are too short, tops that are too tight, and that I should not walk alone at night so as not to tempt men from harassing me. I was told to be quiet. I was told to just keep walking, and to ignore catcalls.

This is the set of rules that comes with our bodies. Rules that come with being a woman.

But when we teach girls these rules, we indirectly tell them that their bodies are not theirs from the start. Even though it’s not the intention, we tell them that if you get assaulted, it’s probably because you didn’t follow one of those rules.

But can’t the rules be simpler? Can’t the rule just be: “Don’t rape”? Can’t it be just “don’t touch someone without consent?”

Teaching girls these rules is the reason why these victims ask themselves if it’s really their fault. With these rules, we make these girls believe that maybe if they didn’t drink too much or if their shirt wasn’t too tight, or their skirt, too short, they would’ve been spared.

But that’s not true at all. Clothing or sobriety or whatever doesn’t matter. Stopping sexual assault is simply stopping the perpetrators. We can’t stop these incidents by questioning victims on how they could’ve contributed to the assault.

If you want the victims to speak up about assaults, you have to promise to at least not dismiss them. Because speaking up about such a horrific personal experience is hard enough; getting doubt and skepticism in return just makes the whole thing even harder.

So the next time you raise an eyebrow and ask sexual assault survivors why they didn’t report, ask yourself this first: Would you have believed them? More importantly, would the society have believed them?

Maybe you’re unconsciously part of the problem.
Maybe your doubt and skepticism are the ones silencing them.
Maybe you’re the hand in their mouths that keeps them from speaking up.

If people want more survivors to come forward, return the favor and start believing them—or at the very least, don’t dismiss them outright.

Illustration: Madel Crudo

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