After almost a year of waiting, a young Filipina named “Nicole” finally saw justice served when her rapist, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, an American serviceman was convicted and jailed in December last year. Yet this does not take away the pain she suffered.
It was the rape trial and the media frenzy that projected “Nicole” into the limelight that took a toll on her. Articles baring blow-by-blow accounts of the rape trial, chronicling the intimate details of Nicole and the assault, were plastered up on television screens and the front pages of newspapers, causing her to re-live the trauma again and again.
It is hard to endure an ordeal like rape, and in cases like Nicole’s, the extra attention made it more difficult. And yet, rape survivors like her do just that—survive, endure, and cope.
Dr. June Pagaduan Lopez, an accomplished psychiatric doctor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and Nicole’s psychiatrist, defines rape as a sexual assault in the form of sexual violence against a woman, a child, or even a man. “[Rape] is coerced, and what coerced means is forced sex, not only in the presence of physical resistance but also psychological [resistance] as well,” she says.
There are many types of rape, ranging from statutory rape, which is the rape of minors; to gang rape, which is the rape of a single victim by more than one attacker. In some cases the rape victim knew and trusted the assailant such as in acquaintance or “date” rape and marital rape, a sexual assault between husband and wife. There is also male rape, where the victims are men, of which very little is known.
Rape is a horrible and traumatic experience especially to women. Lopez says this is so because a woman’s sexuality is the core of her identity, her womanhood, and her dignity. Social and cultural norms also value the integrity of the body and sexuality. “In many cultures, to be sexually violated is to be forever damaged as a person, to have no dignity as a person,” she says. “In some cultures, the women who suffered sexual violence or violations are even killed because they believe that they have no more life, [that] to be violated is to exist in a life of devaluation.”
It is also this social stigma that prevents rape victims from reporting the crime, according to a study by Lopez and her colleagues Dr. Ma. Rossana de Guzman and Dr. Aimee G. Chua entitled Surviving Rape: Profile and Coping Reactions of Filipino Rap Survivors seen at the UP-PGH Women’s Desk from January 1999 to December 2000. This is why rape is one of the most underreported crimes in the country. Based on 2002 reports of the National Statistical Coordination Board, about seven women are raped daily in the
It is also a lack of social awareness about the issue that leads to several misconceptions about rape. The study that Lopez and her colleagues worked on at the Philippine General Hospital reveals that rape can happen to anyone--not just to certain ‘types’ of women who are sometimes blamed for “inviting” the assault, for example, by wearing skimpy clothes. In fact, according to their data, the majority of rape survivors they handled were about 18-24 years old, single, educated, coming from a wide array of occupations and social classes. Seventy-eight percent of the victims were raped in familiar environments by people known to them.
Many people even blame these victims: “Bakit hindi ka lumaban, o sumigaw?” However, the study asserts that a woman who is raped may not actively fight off the assailant and they may not always have signs of physical injuries, which are considered proof that the rape happened.
Aside from the physical aspects of rape, victims also endure serious mental and emotional stress. Rape survivors may suffer from low self-esteem, depression, or insomnia; may develop hatred or fear of men; may feel “dirty” and may even blame themselves for what happened. “There can be rape victims who lose their minds and their sanity. They become psychotic, but that’s not common,” states Lopez, who has 38 years of experience in the field. “The symptoms can vary from the unobvious to the most obvious. Psychologic[al] effects are less obvious but much more profound.”
Lopez adds that there are rape victims who have a hard time recovering from the sexual assault but there are those who recover from rape. “Each victim copes with rape differently,” Lopez said.
Nicole, for example, reportedly jogs to cope with the stress of her trial. During one of the court proceedings, when Nicole punched the accused, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, with her fists and her handbag, Dr. Lopez described the incident as healthy. “At least she wasn’t blaming herself anymore, but was showing anger [towards the accused],” she said.
Maggie dela Riva, a famous actress, for example, who was abducted and raped by four men in 1967, revealed how she coped with the incident in a recent interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “When that misfortune happened to me, I realized that although my body was raped my true self was never defiled and that there’s another person in me that’s beautiful, strong and true. The old Maggie has faded away. I look at my experience as something that happened to someone else who is no longer the person I am today.”
De la Riva, who, aside from her family, did not have many public support groups to rally behind her, bravely faced the scrutiny of the high-profile rape trial almost by herself. Now, many years later, many more options are available to rape survivors.
There are women’s crisis centers that deal with rape victims and survivors and support groups who help them cope with the trauma, like the Philippine General Hospital Women’s Desk, which Lopez helped set up in 1998. There are also psychiatrists and psychologists in the country willing to help rape survivors. “Some of us are particularly trained or have interest in sexual violence. We have perhaps a more special expertise in dealing with such cases,” she says. Other organizations include Gabriela, Organization of Women Against Sexual Harassment (OWASH) in U.P., and Women’s
Lopez credits this improvement to the organization and consciousness of women. “Certainly, compared to 30 years ago and even more, awareness and consciousness among women was very low. Women’s rights was not something being talked about and also the political consciousness of people were not as developed as it is now.”
The law also requires the government to provide legal, psychological, and financial assistance to rape survivors through the Rape Victim Assistance Act of 1998 or Republic Act 8505. “To what extent this [law] is being carried out is another thing. I have a tendency to believe that it’s not being implemented properly,” she states.
Lopez suggests that the government, especially the members of the Court , prosecution and investigation agencies, should be taught how to sensitively handle rape survivors. “[They have] to appreciate that these women complainants are doing a heroic act of reporting [the crime]. No one had ever complained or had the courage to come forward and get justice for themselves,” she explains. “[They] must not re-traumatize them, which is happening in Court because of the insensitivity of these investigation agencies. A rape survivor feels like she’s being raped again so if you have to protect them (and the Law requires that they be protected from retraumatization.”
She also says that there should be better monitoring of agencies that assist rape victims like the Department of Social Work and Community Development. “[We have] to see to what extent the assistance is appropriate,” she says.
“Nicole” is now fighting her next battle quietly and with little attention from the media. Her lawyer, Evalyn Ursua says that they are battling it out in the appellate court and will pursue the case until it reaches the Supreme Court. In the meantime, “Nicole” spends time with her family and friends.
Rape is indeed a shattering experience that can cause physical, emotional, and psychological turmoil. There are also so many problems in our society’s views of rape victims and how we deal with them that it requires a social and political overhaul. What matters, however, is not to lose hope. Dr. Lopez stresses there is always hope for rape survivors. “As long as you’re alive, and as long as we educate ourselves [with] how we can contribute to [the rape victim’s] recovery, there is hope.” ■