Echoes of Abuse

The hashtag #MeToo campaign is something to marvel at.

I’m glad people are coming out with their testimonies against sexual assault or harassment. It’s unprecedented what’s happening all around the globe.

This reminded me of several instances where, as juror in contests between school publications nationwide, I came across what seemed like admissions or cases of sexual assault, harassment or even rape in the pieces I have read.

They often appear in poems published in the literary pages of school papers. A desperate cry for help, several lines depicting the act itself from people these students personally know—father, uncle, cousin, good friends.

A handful of poems revealed attempts at incest, rape, and abuse.

I was, in fact, shocked at one of the revelations of our on-the-job trainees. It is required of them to write a one-page essay on why they wish to train under Philippines Graphic as journalists.

In her essay, she related how a relative (a cousin, if memory serves) attempted to sexually abuse her years back. She fought back, driving her cousin away, only to realize one day that he was back and attempting to do the same.

Her fear drove her to stay at the newsroom for long hours if only to avoid seeing her cousin. We extended a helping hand by offering to bring her to authorities to file a complaint. She refused.

Sexual assault has nothing to do with sex; it has everything to do with hate and power over another.

While I wouldn’t put it past these youngsters to display a vivid imagination or create such stunning metaphors, if at all these were mere metaphors, still, what possible reason aside from these things actually happening could they have to come out and share their ‘experiences’?

I recall feeling my chest grow heavy from reading the poems. I remember one particular poem which seemed to describe the student’s father, another an uncle. As a father myself, these made my blood boil.

But as a journalist, it is not my job to judge outright, using only the testimony or what seemed like a testimony of someone ‘crying for help’.

I decided to share my thoughts with the other jurors. We brought the matter up to the administrators of the student conference. I don’t know what happened after that.

I have written about sexual assault in the past—both men and women as culprits, but more on men–and one thing I’ve learned is that the most common culprits are not the sick bastards with uncontrollable sexual fantasies or urges, but everyday people, oftentimes persons we know, those we least expect to commit sexual crimes.

Like the best predators, they lie in wait for the right moment, hiding behind shadows or even friendly smiles before they pounce on their prey.

Sexual predators do not need drugs to get their blood going. Their drug of choice is seeing the victim squirm in fear, using the predator’s hate as the trigger.

Remember, sexual assault has nothing to do with sex; it has everything to do with hate and power over another.

I wrote this short piece to call on all campus editors, especially those managing the literary pages of school newspapers and journals–the editors-in-chief, above all: Please be sensitive to what the students are submitting.

Unless these people wish to come out openly, literature is the best possible venue to veil their cries for help.

Read them not only for their art, but the message often hidden between the lines. If you come across a poem or short story depicting sexual abuse, please have your professor or moderator look at these pieces. You might be able to save a life.

That being said, a word of warning: Journalists live on facts. We work and breathe facts. A testimony against sexual abuse is good, even when veiled in a poem.

But with truth being so scarce these days, I would rather err on the side of caution; caution being not jumping to conclusions unless there is undeniable proof of the crime.

Anyone can say anything for or against another. While I will refuse to think of the testimony as an outright lie, I don’t suggest that you believe it like it was gospel truth without ample evidence.

Victims of sexual abuse or harassment suffer under a level of complexity imposed on them by society, which is why most victims refuse to come out into the open. They are often vilified, harassed a second time by people’s criticism.

And from what I’ve seen and heard in years of journalism, gender issues play a very little role in who or what is behind the abuse.

While most studies reveal that males fall under the category of ‘sexual predator,’ there were also several instances where females had been found guilty.

I suggest you tread carefully as you leave no stone unturned, always having in mind the lives that could be destroyed in the process of uncovering the facts.

We don’t want anyone to suffer any more than they already have.

The best way to handle this is to show your professor or moderator the piece/s, that way you will know what to do next.

Campus journalists are journalists; you’re not exempted from the tenets of accuracy and truth in journalism. We can all start not by writing about it, but by first extending a helping hand. G





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