Zero tolerance to sexual exploitation

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Shay-Cullenweb

The young women, allegedly victims of sexual abuse by government officials stationed at Philippine embassies in the Middle East, were being interviewed by Philippine media. They had their heads and faces completely covered with black cloth and wore dark glasses to hide from the public gaze and to avoid the stigma of being branded a person of ill repute. It is a grave injustice that the victims of sex crimes and not their abusers are branded with a stigma of wrongdoing.

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Other victimized abused women have come forward to make statements about how they too were sexually abused and forced into prostitution to get a ticket from the embassy officials to come home to the Philippines.

Not only were they abused physically, verbally, and sexually by their employers, but also by those assigned, paid and sworn to assist and help them, according to the credible testimonies of the women. While the accused officials can claim to be innocent until proven guilty, it cannot be said either the victims are fabricating, inventing and lying. The suspects have a right to be made aware of the allegations made against them and to make a reply before any judgement. When done, the investigators can decide if there is sufficient evidence against them to bring charges.

However, the evidence so far is compelling to establish that such events did happen but to prove it in a Philippine court of law or before the Ombudsman is very difficult. Witnesses are already being intimidated as seen by the wearing of black face coverings by the witnesses. It’s a very difficult decision for a sexually abused woman or child to go public.

Some years ago, a high government official commenting on similar reports of sexual abuse of Philippine women abroad advised the women to “lie back and enjoy it”. However, if he’s to be gang raped himself, I doubt he would tell himself the same thing. It is the casual cavalier attitude that is most disturbing.

What a shame this is for the Filipino people. But should we be surprised? You would expect perhaps there would be public outcry about such exploitation and corruption but there is none, at least not yet. Nor are there marches and demonstrations on the streets like they had in India and Sri Lanka to protest the widespread non-stop rape of women and children. Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in cities across Brazil because of higher bus fares and government inaction. In the Philippines, tolerance and silence about the rape of women and children, and human trafficking is the norm, except for a few very dedicated rights groups.

Perhaps the brutal crackdown by the previous Arroyo government against protesters and the assassination of hundreds of social activists, outspoken journalists, priests and pastors has had a chilling effect. Today, protest is silenced by the sweet promises of the present government. But evil and injustice are widespread and without an active response by civil society and church leaders, victims must endure silently.

This opens the way for a machismo culture that promotes male domination and the sexual conquest of women and even underage girls. Even clergy are living in unlawful and immoral sexual relationships generally ignored by the hierarchy. Should we be surprised then that even government officials consider it their privilege and entitlement to sexually exploit women and see little harm in it?

More evidence is seen in the widespread tolerance and even encouragement of sex tourism by local government giving licenses and permits to sex bars and clubs. Human trafficking of women and children to these fronts for forced prostitution goes on in the Catholic Philippines. The country is still on Tier 2 of the US ratings as of June 19 this year for non-compliance with minimum international standards to curb Human Trafficking due to the lack of arrests, convictions and a weak judicial system according to the US State Department. Kids as young as 14 are offered openly on the streets of Angeles City in Pampanga. (see ABC News NY Nightline video of this on www.preda.org and Youtube).

The sex industry has its abortion clinics killing off the babies of the local and foreign sex tourists, and aborting the unwanted pregnancies of some Filipino women. This too is tolerated as part of the permissive attitude that allows it all to happen with impunity. We need zero tolerance for sexual exploitation. This is the challenge that civil and church leaders cannot ignore. [end]

(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Universe, The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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