Home. Just the word itself is strong enough to evoke feelings of love, warmth and safety. It’s everything positive that we lean on for support, especially when things don’t work out the way we hope they would.
But while the home can serve as a sanctuary for many of us, a home can also be the exact opposite for those who are trapped in it with abusive partners or parents. In these cases, the home is a prison. The four walls, rather than serving as protection against danger, now serve to hide the danger within.
As unemployment rates go up, financial and food security are also being threatened for many families. These reasons are becoming additional triggers for the violent tendencies of abusers. At the same time, these are the very same problems that hold victims back from speaking up. Coupled with the restrictions of a lockdown and the limitations of protective services during the pandemic, we have a perfect storm.
At first glance, one might be inclined to dismiss this as improbable for a country that prides itself in its progressive attitude toward women. Filipinos are also known for our close-knit ties and devotion to family. Yet, numbers shamefully say otherwise.
Dana Guerrero, volunteer manager of Lunas Collective, a feminist, inclusive, volunteer-powered online support system, said that in 2017, 19 percent of Filipino women had experienced sexual or physical violence, as was noted in the National Demographic and Health Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority. Only 34 percent of victims sought help.
In the first month of the lockdown, the Philippine National Police Women’s Desk reported 682 incidences of spousal abuse or about 20 cases a day. By June, this number had risen to 3,600 and, now, we are looking at over 8,000 cases. These numbers are worrisome. We can only wonder how many more are out there, behind closed doors, especially now when access to protection is even more difficult, if not downright impossible for many.
Who is at risk?
While anyone, man or woman, young or old, rich or poor, can be a victim of abuse, women and children have always been the most vulnerable, especially those who are dependent on their abusers. The demographics are broad, hitting ages 15–49 and mostly the CDE segment.
Most of the time, many of the victims are not even aware or only mildly aware that they have a problem. These are people who value their families and relationships—whether as a personal inclination or as an influence of society. But due to the value they place on relationships, they are sometimes blinded to the realities of their experiences. Financial dependence and lack of education leave many victims even more powerless against their abusers, as they do not have access to any means of help or knowledge of their rights.We have always taken great pride in our love and respect for the women of our country and yet, here we are. How do we reconcile our supposed progressive feminist views with the shocking number of domestic abuse cases we have?
Clearly, there is still a significant portion of society that continues to live in—and propagate—patriarchy. Within this particular segment of society, there are uneven power relations, misogyny, machismo and sexism, which devalue women and children, giving rise to persistent gender-based violence at home and in communities.
Rooted in this culture is also the pernicious tendency to blame the victim. So insidious is this mindset that even victims are the first to blame themselves, not realizing that nothing they do is ever reason enough to be abused.
Many of us joke about how there are no secrets in Manila, with the latest news often reaching the far corners of the country within a short span of time.
Yet incidences of domestic violence are hushed by victims at all costs, who wrongly believe them to be a private concern between a couple that should not be discussed with others.
Many also are afraid to get involved in “usapang mag-asawa,” preferring to turn a blind eye.
Sadly, this only works in favor of perpetrators who work best by isolating their victims, leaving them with no support or backup systems.
Gender-based violence is not just a black-and-blue physical bruise on the face. It is the twisted and cruel words that verbal abusers use to create a warped reality in the minds of their victims; it is the sexual encounters that partners are forced to submit to as part of their duty; it is the online violence that creeps into one’s reality when a partner insists on knowing all you do online or threatens to upload intimate and personal content.
It is a partner reduced to begging from the provider of the family; it’s a wife beset with anxiety because of a philandering spouse. It is almost mind-blowing to see how much damage can be dealt upon a victim from all corners: physical, verbal, sexual, psychological, financial and even online, through cyberviolence.
We must make a collective effort to end gender-based violence now and save victims from dangerous and oppressive environments. Fortunately, so many groups and agencies are now united in fighting gender-based violence.
Our government agencies, together with FamiLigtas, the United States Agency for International Development and Lunas Collective, are at the forefront of this fight.
Vigilance is key. Many times, the signs are everywhere, but we simply do not notice them. Perhaps you have a friend who has suddenly become withdrawn or you have witnessed an incident that seems out of the ordinary. Don’t let these things slide by. It is always better to overreact in trying to help rather than not to do enough and pay the consequences later on.
As a mother of a daughter, I am deeply concerned for her future. I am using this time I have with her to build an unassailable sense of self-worth and value, that she may never allow anyone to treat her in any way that is not right.
But just as importantly, as a mother of two sons, I have a responsibility to ingrain in them the value of respect for all people and genders, the courage to stand up for those who cannot do so for themselves and the realization that violence, in any form, is never an acceptable course of action, no matter what. As Karen Davila, a staunch advocate of women’s rights and empowerment, reminds all of us, take time to care for one another. Let’s put down our gadgets, take a minute out of our busy lives to look around and see who we need to reach out to. Sometimes, all it takes is one call to let someone know that they have value and can stand up to violence. That one call may be all someone needs to change their life. —CONTRIBUTED INQ
If you are suffering from abuse and would like to report, call 85326690 immediately or send a Facebook message to FamiLigtas and Lunas Collective.