It’s no secret that sexual harassment can take place anywhere. While several students and alumni have spoken up about sexual abusers and predators within the premises of their campuses, what can you do if it happens online?
With the staggering statistics on online sexual abuse cases in the Philippines last year, finding a safe space online has become a struggle. There have been instances when schools sanctioned faculty members for committing acts of online sexual harassment, such as when De La Salle University fired a part-time faculty member for his inappropriate comments towards a senator on his social media page.
Meanwhile, though this case didn’t happen online, Ateneo de Manila University recently announced that a professor with several alleged cases of sexual harassment was “no longer connected with the university.” Even if the announcement was considered a development in the case, it remains unclear whether his departure was voluntary or mandated by the university. Time’s Up Ateneo, a community supporting sexual violence survivors, released a statement demanding more accountability and transparency from the university regarding the professor’s situation.
Since classes are now mostly done online, we asked Dasha Uy of Time’s Up Ateneo how we can support survivors during this time, and what schools need to do to protect their students both online and offline.
Given that universities are still resorting to online classes this year, how has the organization been holding up?
We’ve been holding up OK. Even before the pandemic, Time’s Up has a lot of members who work outside Ateneo (ex. alumni) who are just as invested in the issue or who are seeking community, so we have made it a point to have lots of ways for them to reach us virtually. Since lockdown, we’ve become even more active online and have had a lot of community-building activities like feminist book clubs, movie showings, and game nights. Our services for the community, including support groups, access to legal services and more, are now also online.
We saw that one of the professors who was accused of sexual harassment has left the university. While his departure has long been overdue, how significant was this for the cause of your organization? What else needs to be done?
14 January 2021
Time’s Up Ateneo welcomes the news of Dr. Jade Principe’s long-overdue departure from the…
It was pretty major, not just for the organization, but for the community as a whole, which has been clamoring for some form of accountability for the longest time. But there’s a lot left that has to be done:
First, there’s the question of whether this professor quit or if he was removed from position. There have been some cases in the past when professors quit before they could be held accountable for their wrongdoings with something on their permanent record. Who’s to say it didn’t happen again [before he left]?
Second, others in the University still have to be held accountable. The University has admitted that it made a mistake when it downgraded the case of sexual harassment against this professor to something much lighter. Who made or recommended that decision, and will they be held accountable?
Third, there’s still a lot to change in terms of culture. Many are still afraid or otherwise unable to speak [up] about their experiences due to fear of retaliation, or because the person who harassed them is “legendary” or popular. We need to change that. We also need to build a culture where we’re not afraid to challenge even our friends when they’re being sexist or misogynistic.
Have you received reports on sexual harassment cases in online and simultaneous classes during the pandemic? How does it happen?
Time’s Up Ateneo hasn’t had any reports, specifically. However, there are many different ways by which sexual harassment can occur in an online setting, from things as small as sexist or sexual jokes in class or even a preference for female over male beadles (or vice versa) to persistent, sexist, and sexual messaging, [sending] dick pics, [making] requests for sexual favors and more online.
I think it’s also really important to take into account practices during online classes that may cause students of a particular gender to feel uncomfortable during class. Are we accidentally outing an LGBTQIA+ student who’s still in the closet at home? Are we constantly talking over female students when we don’t do the same for male students? Are we taking into account increased care responsibilities at home, especially for female students? Are we only providing one way to participate (i.e. talking during synchronous or simultaneous learning discussions) or are we providing many ways? There are many ways by which students of a certain gender can fall behind during online classes, and these have to be considered.
Could you tell us how you’ve been fighting against it and supporting survivors during the pandemic? How differently do you deal with cases now compared to how you did it before the pandemic?
As mentioned previously, Time’s Up has made efforts to connect with its members even before the pandemic, so we do have video sessions for survivors we’re supporting, and we continue to provide the support we’ve provided before, although it’s trickier if the survivor is living with the abuser. We are also open to more limited face-to-face meetings now that we’re not under hard lockdown.
All in all, it’s been an adjustment, but one that Time’s Up, I think, was definitely ready to take on.
As family members, professors or fellow students, are there telling signs that we should watch out for if a student is facing sexual harassment during both physical and online classes?
There are signs, of course, like maybe reduced participation in class and slipping grades, personality changes, differences in sleeping or eating patterns, an obsession with perfection, low self-esteem, mistrust of people, depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt or shame.
However, it is important to note that these signs are not always there—in other words, sexual harassment [may] have happened to a person who will not show these signs. That doesn’t mean that they are any less worthy of support or belief with regard to what happened to them. I think during this pandemic, we all have the responsibility to step up as part of the community and check on our peers and students more.
Given that the pandemic is still going on, what can we do about these cases and how can we help the survivors?
There are lots of ways to support survivors, many of which we’ve already talked about above. What’s most important is to be sensitive to what the survivor needs. If they say they’re not ready or willing to talk about it publicly, then don’t [force them]. If they say they just need a listening ear, then just listen. Let’s not force them into uncomfortable positions.
We can also definitely do things outside directly interacting with survivors. What are we doing to prevent cases of sexual harassment? What boundaries are we enforcing and how careful are we especially with our language? Do we call out sexism when we see it or do we let it slide because “I’m not like that”? These things matter—we can help survivors by making our spaces safer and preventing sexual harassment from happening at all.
With the Hija Ako movement and the reckoning of several schools like Miriam College and UST, what kind of policies do you think schools need to be putting in place to protect their students?
Schools definitely need to be more proactive. For one, we definitely should stop this culture of victim-blaming in schools, where a survivor might be shamed ([by being asked questions like] “What were you wearing?”, “Why do you even have a boyfriend or sexual interactions in the first place?”, “Why did you keep messaging that prof if he made you uncomfortable?” or “What were you doing?”) for reporting an incident.
We also need to stop [the] paternalistic ways of talking to students, policies or statements which insist or even imply that the school knows best for students, so students should keep these incidents hush-hush. (Often, students did approach the school first, and the school did nothing.)
We also need schools to stop telling students to trust them and [to] actually show that they can be trustworthy by passing and actually implementing survivor-centered policies and programs with regard to sexual violence. Our teachers and our schools are supposed to teach us to be good people, but with regard to sexual violence, imbis na ‘yung school ‘yung example, nagiging ‘yung students pa ‘yung kailangan mag-effort. Schools should be making an effort to not be sexist and they should be the first to reject sexual violence instead of coddling or protecting sexual harassers.
During the past year, celebrities like Sunshine Cruz, Liza Soberano and Frankie Pangilinan have spoken up about online sexual harassment and inspired several others to stand in solidarity with them. How much progress do you think we’ve made in fighting sexual harassment and abuse? What still needs to be done?
While the efforts of these women are very much appreciated, we have to acknowledge that they come from a very specific demographic where there are relatively fewer consequences and cultural barriers against supporting feminism. We definitely need to think about others’ experiences of sexism and sexual violence, and how we can support them in a way that fits their context, their culture, and their experiences, because how can feminism be feminism when it’s not intersectional?
In addition, we need more boys and men to join in and be activeallies. For one, boys and men can definitely experience sexual violence too, so they shouldn’t feel invincible or unaffected by this issue. This isn’t just a women’s or LGBTQIA+ issue; it’s an issue of human rights, and boys and men can and should be part of [solving] that, too.