The Unspoken Reality: Sexual Harassment in the Educational Environment
Posted August 9, 2008on:
“Dili jud ko ganahan ana niya na maestro kay manghikap man na siya…” [I really don’t like that teacher, he likes to grope…]Ana (not her real name) confided to her friends. An unwitting victim of sexual harassment, Ana and many other students in the university prefers to talk about their experience with their friends than report them to authorities.
The Problem: An overview
Despite the laws passed against sexual harassment, the problem has continued to silently exist not only in the academe but even in other sectors of the society. Though there had been no official record of sexual harassment incidents in schools found in the city, yet it could not negate the existence of the problem.
In Negros Oriental State University, a number of female students have been victims of sexual harassment. But despite the number of students claiming that their stories are true, the university has no official record of such incidents.
Stories such as the one related by Liezel (name withheld), who was harassed by her instructor, are known among the students but is unknown to school authorities. According to Liezel, one of her teachers flirted with her and invited her to go out for a date. She added that she agreed on the teacher’s invitation to roam the city in his car but she was with a friend. Liezel narrated that when they stopped in a place; the teacher transferred in the backseat of the car and started to touch some parts of her body.
Liezel was alone in her experience however. In the following days the teacher diverted his attention to another student. Liezel shared that her classmate was so scared because their teacher told her that he will only release her class card if the student agrees to go out with him.
Despite the extent of the abuse the incident, like many other incidents of physical and sexual abuse in the university, was not reported to school authorities.
According to the sexualharassment.org, a site maintained by an American organization against sexual harassment, “Sexual harassment is common at every stage of education. Verbal and physical harassment begins in elementary school, and 4 out of 5 children experience some form of sexual harassment… Eight out of 10 will experience this at some point in their school lives, and roughly 25 percent will experience this often. Six out of 10 students will experience some form of physical sexual harassment.”
Gender Watch Against Violence and Exploitation (GWAVE) Legal Assistant Sheena Alesve explained that the reason why students do not complain about the incident because they are often threatened by the teacher. Alesve said that the teacher, or any other assailant, often use their authority or power over the victim to control the latter.
A Deafening Silence
Although the idea of sexual harassment is not uncommon among students, a lot of them are still unaware that they had been a victim of such. Many of these students would prefer to talk about the incident like it was normal and very few would actually consider reporting it to school authorities.
In an interview with NORSU Student Affairs Director (SAO), Mr. William Aranas shared that though he had heard of stories about instructors harassing their students by maliciously touching them or giving lewd remarks, there had been no actual report filed in his office.
“The student’s official complaint is important because even if the incident really happened, if there is no official complaint the school could not pursue the matter and do something about it,” Aranas said. He shared that many times he had heard of stories accusing instructors of sexual harassment but he could not do anything about it because most of the time the students refuses to file a formal complaint out of fear.
Aranas also said that the students refuse to complain because they think that if they ignore the problem, the harassment will stop. Meanwhile, some of the victims are too embarrassed to even mention the incident or thinks that nothing can be done to stop the harassment.
According to sexualharassmentsupport.org, an online site meant to support and give information on the subject, “In truth, sexual harassment actually relies on a victim’s uncertainty about how to describe, and label, what is happening to them. A rape victim knows when they have been raped, but sexual harassment victims often do not understand what they are experiencing, or even why they are being hurt by it. Even if they can describe the experience to themselves, victims often differ in their willingness to accept what is happening.”
The site furthered that because the victim is often misunderstood when relating the experiences, the victim often do not talk about the incident at all.
This is particularly true in the university. Even if victims were encouraged by their friends to report the incident to school authorities, most of the victims would prefer to keep mum on the issue while others would admit that they are embarrassed to report about what happened to them.
G-WAVE paralegal officer Brigette Frederix said that it is really important for the victims to report the incident so proper measures could be done.
Despite the prevalence of sexual harassment in the country, the issue is not thoroughly discussed even in the academe. A lot of these students who were harassed, often by their instructors and others figures of authority, are unaware that what they are experiencing can actually be constituted as sexual harassment. Amazingly, even some of the culprits are unaware that what they are doing can already be considered as sexual harassment.
Though the victims are aware that what is happening to them is no longer normal, a lot of times they are unaware that they could actually do something about it.
Even if organizations such as GWAVE exists to help address the problem on sexual harassment, a lot of people still does not know the full extent of the law and what it covers.
In order to protect women against abuses, whether physical, sexual or psychological, the government has enacted laws such as the Republic Act 7877 or the Anti-Sexual harassment Act of 1995 and the R.A 9262 known as the Violence Against Women and Children Act of 2003. The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 states that sexual harassment is committed when sexual favor is made in condition to, in the case of the educational sector, “giving of a passing grade, granting of honors and scholarships, payment of a stipend, allowance or other benefits, privileges, or consideration.”
On the other hand, the R.A 9262 is briefly defined as “an act defining violence against women and their children, providing for protective measures for victims, prescribing penalties therefore, and for other purposes.” This law, enacted on July 2003, considers sexual harassment as an act of sexual violence and is punishable under the said law.
According to the law, any act that could result to the physical, sexual, psychological harm or abuse, harassment, deprivation of liberty and coercion is a violation of the R.A 9262.
GWAVE explains that sexual harassment is not only limited to acts of lasciviousness against a victim. They explained that sexual harassment could be verbal in the form of lewd or malicious remarks.
According to the sexualharassmentsupport.org, sexual harassment is not actually about sex. The site claimed that the core of the problem is the abuse of authority and not sex or romantic interest. Sexual harassment, according to the site, includes uninvited touching or hugging, requesting sexual favors for rewards related to school or work, suggestive jokes of sexual nature, forcing the person to watch pornographic materials, unwelcome flirtations or propositions, obscene gestures, written notes of sexual nature and stalking.
Violation of the R.A 7877 or the Sexual Harassment Law of 1995 is punishable by imprisonment of no more than six months and fine of not less than P10, 000 in the Philippines.
The possible solution
While there government has provided laws in an attempt to protect women from abuses, the cooperation of the public is still important.
According to SAO Director Aranas, the problem on sexual harassment and any other such problems cannot be quantified nor controlled because the victim themselves do not cooperate. This sentiment was shared by GWAVE representatives as they explain how important it is for the victims to speak up.
Aranas furthered that if ever there is a complaint, most often than not, it would be settled before the complainant could actually file a formal complaint. “The problem is that, the complainant usually agrees for settlements right away” Aranas shared. In his part, Aranas is encouraging the students to be more vigilant and more vocal not only in cases of sexual harassment so that the school can do something about the problem.
As one, the authorities agree that the problem on sexual harassment can only be prevented if the victims would start coming out and report their cases.
[this is a report passed for one of my major subjects]