In Sweden, #MeToo has clearly swept the nation. Last year, a new law was passed by the Swedish Parliament which says that the lack of consent, verbal or physical, constitutes a crime. “If a person wants to engage in sexual activities with someone who remains inactive or gives ambiguous signals, he or she will therefore have to find out if the other person is willing,” the law states. BBC reports that “Under the previous legislation, prosecutors had to prove that the perpetrator had used violence or that the victim had been exploited in a vulnerable condition, such as under the influence of alcohol, in order to secure a rape conviction.” Adding, “The law introduces two new offences, negligent rape and negligent sexual abuse, carrying a maximum prison term of four years.”
Despite initial critics and doubts that it wouldn’t make any real impact, experts have found that a year after its implementation, it made quite a difference in court cases and within Swedish society. According to The Local, over the past year, a study from the Siren news agency “found that in 84 cases where prosecutors mentioned ‘negligent rape,’ 45 resulted in a rape conviction while six were sentenced for negligent rape.”
“There is increased awareness and a greater openness towards talking about [sexual consent] today,” said Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU)’s Maria Bergström. “For example, we can see that this has made it easier for people who have previously experienced this to put words on what happened to them, and to then perhaps go further with reporting it or seeking support. The law has finally made it clear that one always has a responsibility to ensure that there is consent.” She adds, “There is a much greater awareness and more conversations today on these questions among young men but also in the adult population—we also see that the question is raised by the media in a different way than before.”
It is important to note that even before this law, Sweden has always been considered one of the more gender equal countries in the world. In fact, it ranks third in gender equality. However, with the #MeToo uproar, it became clear to their government that the country still has a long way to go in fighting gender-based violence.
“We have near impunity when it comes to rape in this corner of the world that’s normally regarded as one of the most gender equal countries, and we simply can’t have that,” Amnesty International’s Katarina Bergehed told The Local.
Their situation certainly mirrors our own. We too have consistently been regarded as a gender equal country. But cases of rape and violence—most of which go unreported—remain prolific. Except, in our case, #MeToo is yet to be felt by our country in terms of the national level.
This is why the Office of The Vice President Leni Robredo, Embassy of Sweden in Manila, UN Women, Spark! Philippines, Empower, Terre des Hommes, Girls Advocacy Alliance, and Para sa Sining started the #RespetoNaman campaign. Initially launched in November 2018 in commemoration of the worldwide 16-day campaign to end gender-based violence, the campaign kicked off with the The Don’t Tell Me How To Dress Exhibit which features clothes survivors were wearing when they were sexually assaulted. Its aim is to break the stereotype that women’s appearances and behaviors are to blame when they are assaulted.
One of the key things #RespetoNaman campaigns for is better awareness. First, among the Filipino people. “Our problem is not that people are innately violent or they want to hurt each other, it’s that they’re ignorant of the pain they [inflict] so our goal here really is to shine a light on the plight of victims,” advocate Kat Alano said.
She also stressed the serious lack of awareness on our existing laws and policies, citing howjudges and lawyers are still ruling cases based on the old law, which contributes to the three percent conviction rate here in the country.
Barry Guttierez of the OVP, stressed the existence of the Rape Shield Law, which prohibits introduction of past sexual history of complainant as part of defense. He said judges sadly don’t observe this “because we have such a long history of jurisprudence, which has long established that it is permissible [to use] as a defense in rape case.” In turn, what usually happens in rape trials is, instead of the perpetrator being the one questioned, the burden is shifted to the person complaining.
“We have the policies in place, but the attitudes of people in the justice system, particularly judges, has not shifted from what it was 30 years ago,” he said.
One of the amendments to the 1997 rape law people have to be aware of is that victims don’t necessarily have to participate in the trials. Again, Barry pointed out that prosecutors are so used to having the complainant as the main witness, and the fact that complainants have to be present to participate. Kat stressed that according to the law, if you are aware of a rape case, you can actually file a case on behalf of the victim. “You don’t need the victim’s consent to do this,” she said. “So we would like to invite people to also be more involved in the community and if you do know of sexual violence towards a child, to actually do something about it because you have that capacity. In a lot of cases, children cannot. And their families will not. So it’s really up to us as a society to try and change what’s going on in our country.”
Bb. Pilipinas Supranational Resham Saeed, who was introduced as the newest face of the campaign, agreed by saying, “Now we have the world at our fingertips. We have phones, we have social media accounts.” She stressed that each one of us has a huge responsibility. She admitted, she previously felt powerless too, but that “the feelings of hopelessness fade the moment you choose to do something about it.”
VP Leni Robredo meanwhile said, “Women’s empowerment in the 21st century is no longer just about representation and activism. Each one of us is called to go beyond lip service, and be more proactive in championing the cause of making our spaces not only safe for women, but conducive to their success.”
For now, what we can do is spread the knowledge. And actively campaign for better policies, such as increasing the age of consent from 12 to 18.
We can also call for greater number of equalization. Currently rape and sexual assault are defined differently, and penalties for sexual assault, which includes a broad range of sexual violence, are much lower.
Barry highlights that sadly, there is still a huge burden on victims, even with the existing policies in place. For now, there are only a few places for women to go, namely, the Women’s Care Center and NGOs. The situation is so dire that according Spark! Executive Director Maica Teves, NGOs don’t broadcast their services as there will be an influx of people, and unfortunately, they don’t have enough resources to accommodate all victims.
Certainly our culture contributes a lot to why it’s taking so long for the #MeToo movement to penetrate the Philippines. It is important to note that marital and incestuous rape are the most dominant cases in the country. And we can’t discount the fact that our own leaders are misogynists.
Ambassador Fries, who has supported #RespetoNaman campaign since it started last year, noted that the message of the campaign “Needs to reverberate not just in Metro Manila, but also to the farthest towns in the Philippines as it tackles important, but often overlooked questions such as: Are there sufficient laws protecting the welfare of women and girls? Are these laws effectively enforced to protect women and girls from exploitation, violence, harassment and rape? Are social norms enabling a culture of abuse of women?”
Maica adds, “Now, more than ever, is the time to shift the narrative, end victim-blaming, and call for respect for women not because of what they wear or how they act, but by virtue of their being human.”
The #RespetoNaman Campaign’s latest stop was at Cagayan de Oro City for the month of June. The campaign will take on its first Visayas leg starting July 18 in Cebu City. The Don’t Tell Me How To Dress Exhibit will be at the Ayala Center Cebu, and a #RespetoNaman Forum will be held at the University of San Carlos.