How to end rape culture: Shut up and listen

Here the victims are, on the cover of one of the most influential publications in the world, given a space that is all their own, to tell their stories on their own terms without anyone interjecting, “What were you wearing when you were raped?”
Here the victims are, on the cover of one of the most influential publications in the world, given a space that is all their own, to tell their stories on their own terms without anyone interjecting, “What were you wearing when you were raped?”

The only way to catch a rapist is to listen to a victim,” singer, songwriter and host Kat Alano told me when I interviewed her for a Metro Society feature last year.

It’s a statement that makes plain sense. Rapes are typically carried out in places where there are no other spectators. And obviously you can’t count on a rapist to admit his deed (the overused phrase “May takot ako sa Diyos,” comes to mind). A victim’s testimony is the only lead we ever have, if we want to apprehend dangerous people before they get anyone else. And yet, it is a lead that is so often shat upon.

By now, many of us are familiar with the things rape victims are commonly told. They shouldn’t have dressed that way. They shouldn’t have drunk so much. They shouldn’t have gone down that street alone. They shouldn’t have stayed out so late. They shouldn’t have been so flirtatious. They were too pretty — or they weren’t pretty at all, so they ought to be thankful for the sexual attention.

There are even doubts shed on a victim’s intentions, like assuming they’re just after money, or that they just want attention. If a victim is famous, the victim is accused of coming forward for career advancement. The fact is, talking about rape still carries a stigma for the victims. Alano told me she lost jobs that she was up for when she came forward. I then thought of all the other women on TV whom I knew were raped, but continue to have careers. They had one thing in common: they didn’t talk about it. They either shut up about the ordeal and let the public forget, or didn’t admit to being raped at all. This is the position that their employers could get behind. Rape doesn’t turn you into the next teleserye queen.

COLD SILENCE

Then there is the cruelest of reactions: cold silence. People carry on as if nothing happened. They give the rapists the benefit of the doubt, continuing in their relations and patronage of them. In some cases, their “innocence” is even celebrated. And the victims? They’re seen as damaged goods, left to lose their minds in the dark.

People don’t even know how hard it is for a victim to come out and say he/she was raped. It is a trauma that has been likened to that of victims of war. Even without the rapist intimidating them into silence, it takes time to process the darkness of fear, shame, denial, depression and self-loathing. “You can’t talk about rape until you’re ready,” Alano said. “That’s why the prescriptive period has been changed legally from 10 to 20 years for filing a rape case.”

Think about that the next time you’re about to shame/blame a victim. Rapists know they can count on our current society to make the victims shut up; make them feel isolated. By doing this, we let the perpetrators get away, free to get the next victim, and then the next. And when the only people we try to protect are ourselves and our loved ones, we’re essentially saying, “Rape the next girl.”

GROUNDBREAKING MAGAZINE COVER

Early this week, New York magazine put 35 of Bill Cosby’s alleged victims on its cover (please know that media practitioners use the word “alleged” as a legal precaution; we don’t necessarily mean it). In a project that began six months ago, the subjects were interviewed separately. Aside from the main essay, each of the women were given individual space to share their names, the year of their assault, who they were when the incident happened, and their personal account of what transpired.

In addition to the medium of text, there are also video interviews that you can watch on nymag.com/cosby-women. If you’re short on time, a visit to the @nymag Instagram page will give you short audio snippets of the women sharing their stories and how the rape affected them. From photographs, to words, to videos, to voice recordings, NY mag pulled out all the stops to make sure these women were heard, even decades after their (“alleged”) abuse.

This is groundbreaking, because this is happening in a culture where nobody cares about rape victims. We’re living in a world that dismisses them as disposable freaks, especially if the rapist is well-known, loved, respected and highly bankable.

TELLING THEIR STORIES ON THEIR OWN TERMS

But here the victims are, on the cover of one of the most influential publications in the world, given a space that is all their own, to tell their stories on their own terms without anyone interjecting, “What were you wearing when you were raped?”

It is an event that makes me beam with hope. The media is never an isolated entity. It simultaneously reflects and directs cultural movements. And a major cover telling us to shut up and listen to rape victims is something I am all for.

I know that these changes in attitude have yet to trickle down to many at the pedestrian level, not to mention our courts. But cheesy as it sounds, winning the hearts of people is the giant step from which all the legalities proceed. We still have a long way to go and a lot to fight for, but it is clear that a dramatic shift in rape culture is happening, and it is our job to keep the ball rolling.

My interview with Alano infected me to want a culture where we can talk openly about rape and face it and its perpetrators head on, out in the open. A world where victims are empowered to speak up — both for their justice and healing, and for the protection of everybody else. Rallying behind victims isn’t an act of charity; it’s our only shot against these monsters, of whom a laughable three percent ever see due punishment. We do it because these silent waters that we’ve helped create aren’t safe for anybody. For too long we’ve mixed up whom we are supposed to assign power and whom we’re supposed to shame. I think it’s high time we turned the rapist-victim dynamic on its head.

***

Originally published in The Philippine Star SUPREME (1 August 2015)

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