The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) is aghast by the Philippine Daily Inquirer headline “Raped girl no sex worker.” As an organization that has been fighting against trafficking and for legislation to protect victims of sexual exploitation including rape and prostitution, it appalls us to read the media’s headline, reflecting a deep seated bias and prejudice against prostituted women, and examining once again the background of the victim.
The Anti-Rape Law condemns violence of any woman without discrimination, thus, sexual history of the victim is immaterial to the case. The headline seems to imply that women in prostitution (incorrectly referred to as ‘sex worker’, a term we would rather not use because it dignifies the violence that happens in prostitution), deserve to be violently raped, unlike a woman who is pure.
Before sectors further complicate the case, we, as one of the women’s organizations directly helping violated women, want to remind the media and the government that victims’ protection should be a foremost concern. With powerful defendants to face coming from a powerful institution of a powerful nation, the fight is more than daunting for the victim. The media and the government should in fact remove the stigma, threat and burden that have been placed on victims of sexual exploitation in the past. Thus, we, along with our member organizations across the country, express our full support to the 22-year-old Filipina sister.
We vow to watch the government’s moves closely, to ensure that evidences are gathered without putting greater burden on the victim – that other witnesses are secured, medical evidences protected and the most efficient prosecutors made to work on the case, without wasting time at all. If the opposing camp attempts to dissuade the victim through threats or out-of-court settlement, we will urge the state to pursue the case using other such material evidences. In fact, our government should immediately assert its primary right to exercise jurisdiction over the case and not waive it! The perpetrators should not be let off the hook!
The case is a painful reminder of the grave mistake the Philippine government has committed in signing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in 1999, allowing further and even more access by the American military establishment to our land, our environment, our women and children. We had warned against these, as our survivors of prostitution have been witness to the countless incidences of exploitation by the servicemen to our women and children – by creating the huge market to the trafficking and prostitution industry and allowing generations of Amerasian children to suffer from neglect, stigma and abuse, among other grievous human rights violations the servicemen and the entire military establishment has committed, without accountability.
That should be the last of it. Rape and sexual exploitation no more. War no more. VFA no more.