Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rules of entry

DON’T get into a situation.

Some years ago, I heard two views on surviving sex on the streets. A non-government educator on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections advised sex workers to start negotiating with the customer on using a condom while still in the taxi.

He explained that the seller and the buyer were more likely to focus on “business matters” in the taxi. Baser instincts would take over when the two found themselves in a private room.

This negotiation tip made sense until I heard two sex workers scoff and laugh at the notion that a customer would allow himself to be bundled into a “raincoat” and led to a room like an obedient preschooler on the first day of school.

While waiting for her weekly hygiene exam, this street veteran told me that the best way to avoid bodily harm was to “avoid getting into a situation.”

She actually used a sly Cebuano expression redolent with at least a dozen interpretations: “Ug nganong ni-enter (and why enter)?”

I recalled these views when I recently read about “another” US serviceman being accused by “another” Filipina of rape “again.”

In 2005, a Filipina the media named Nicole accused Lance Corporal Daniel Smith of raping her inside the Subic Freeport. Smith was later convicted of rape and sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment. This April, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision after Nicole recanted her allegation.

Last Thursday, another Filipina, tagged by the press as “Vanessa,” accused a US soldier of raping her in his hotel room on Apr. 19.

Although separate and unrelated, the two cases overlap and merge. To many, Vanessa’s story is unsettling as an echo of not just Nicole’s frustrating search for justice but also of the disputable justness of her victimhood.

There are similarities in the situations that preceded the abuse alleged by Nicole and Vanessa. Both Filipinas met the Americans in a bar. Both socialized with the Americans, with Nicole drinking and dancing with Smith and Vanessa and her friends later going to the soldier’s room after making his acquaintance, going home only on the following day. Both Pinays willingly left the bar with their new acquaintances for a private setting (on the second night of their meeting, The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) reports that Vanessa expected their friends to join them in the American’s hotel room, and she tried to leave the room when it became apparent no one was going to show up).

Even considering the differences of culture, the act of voluntarily entering and staying in an acquaintance’s private room must have a very, very narrow range of interpretations. For anyone walking into such a situation, the street veteran’s remark, “nganong ni-enter?,” is not off the mark.

The comment assumes a different significance in the light of Vanessa going public about being violated, identifying her abuser by his nationality and occupation, but stopping short of filing a case against him. The women’s group Gabriela said that Vanessa was disheartened by the difficulties endured by Nicole.

“(Vanessa) just wants to bring out her pain and hurt. In a way, it’s a form of justice,” commented lawyer Evalyn Ursua, according to the PDI.

Rape’s emotional and physical scarring is nothing compared to the public flagellation endured by a victim during trial. Yet, a case filed in court gives the accused a chance to prove his innocence and clear his reputation, an impossibility in trial by publicity.

Formally charging the accuser she named John Jones will not only send out a message that victims will not be cowed into denial and silence but will also open a chink in the public’s cynicism and dismissal of Filipinas who cry rape and later recant. If you cannot avoid a situation, you have to see things through.

Otherwise, “nganong ni-enter?” 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matamata” column for May 17, 2009

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