Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rape a violent crime of conquest

Man's discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times. From the prehistoric times to the present, rape has played a critical function. It is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.

-Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will

Stereotypical rape scenes as depicted in movies and komiks do happen in real life. Ginahasa sa cogonan (raped amid tall grass) or ginahasa sa sagingan (raped in a banana grove) aren't imaginary scenes used to simply add color to lewd narratives, they actually and quite commonly take place in those proverbial places.

Tricycle drivers waylaying and then raping their young passengers has become stereotypical. Not that tricycle drivers are generally the raping kind. Maybe they just easily make it to the news because they have nowhere to run. They end up beaten up by the victims’ kin at the police stations and in front of the TV cameras, unlike the powerful types who could run away aboard their SUVs.

US servicemen raping ``the natives’’ should now be stereotypical too if we go by the statistics that Sen. Francis Pangilinan cited—3,000 rape cases against Americans have been dismissed in the Olongapo City court. I would presume that the cases were mostly against uniformed men.

Lawyer Katrina Legarda (who sent a congressman to jail for rape of a minor) who is handling the case of the young woman allegedly raped by five US soldiers last Nov. 1 has reason to worry and seek the transfer of the case to Manila.

There have been reactions to the media’s stress on the fact that the victim was not, repeat, not a sex worker. Women’s groups have repeatedly pointed out that prostitute or not, drunk or not, a woman does not deserve to be raped. The Inquirer had clarified that the headline that said the victim was not a sex worker was merely a reaction to an American’s argument that the victim had it coming.

Years ago, I went to Bilibid’s Death Row to interview convicts on the crime of rape that they had been convicted for. Of the 11 that I interviewed only two owned up. I could get so lucky. Facing the prospect of death (the death penalty had then been revived) or a long life behind bars didn’t seem to change their views.

``But I paid her,'' related Alex (not his real name), 38, a convicted rapist serving his sentence (reclusion perpetua). Alex said it rather casually, with nary a hint of remorse or indignation. He seemed to have accepted his prison sentence with resignation.

Alex, a jeepney driver, raped Nina, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, inside a jeepney parked in a cogon field. ``I was plying the Cubao-Antipolo route,'' Alex narrated. ``I picked up many passengers along the way and as I was nearing Antipolo, the passengers started to get off one by one. It was late in the afternoon and it was raining.

`` When I reached the end of my route I noticed this schoolgirl who hadn't gotten off. She had taken the wrong jeep. She asked me for directions, where she could take a ride back. I said I'd bring her to a waiting station.''

Alex didn't. He brought her to a cogon field. According to him, he parked his jeepney and offered the girl money--P50--if she would have sex with him. She refused repeatedly. ``Later, she consented,'' Alex said. He didn't have to force her, he claimed. It took all of 10 minutes.

Alex drove back to town with the girl who was near tears. He remembered dropping her off in front of a restaurant. Unknown to him, the girl sought the help of the restaurant owner who lost no time and brought the girl to the police. A few weeks later Alex was nabbed.

Alex and 11 other men were lined up before the victim for identification but Nina failed to identify her rapist. The line-up was reduced to six, then to three and then to two. Still Nina could not identify the rapist. ``It was when I spoke that she identified me,'' Alex said. ``She recognized my voice.''

Alex pleaded not guilty to the charge of rape, arguing that the victim had accepted the money. But he was found guilty just the same. It was proven that Alex had sex with Nina against her consent. She may not have had the telltale signs of struggle to ward off her molester, but Nina’s lawyers argued that she had been intimidated and ran the risk of being harmed had she refused.

And why did Alex do it? ``It just suddenly entered my head.'' It wasn't premeditated. He's had nights out with prostitutes, he told me, and so it wasn't as if he was so ``starved.'' But, he wanted a virgin, he added. And what did Alex think of women in general? ``They are weaker than men,’’ he answered. Violence against women has been perennially committed because of that thinking.

Rape is no longer a ``private crime.’’ The Anti-Rape Law of 1997 classifies rape as ``a crime against persons’’. For so long rape had been considered merely as ``a crime against chastity’’. This seemed to suggest that persons who were unchaste were fair game.

The crime of rape should have nothing to do with the chastity of the victim. Rape is not merely a sexual offense or a crime against chastity but a crime against persons and against the State. As one feminist lawyer had said, ``Rape is not a crime against the hymen. It is a crime against the whole person.’’

It is a crime of the strong against the weak, a crime of conquest. Speaking of conquest, the crime takes on a metaphorical color because the alleged perpetrators are citizens of a former colonizing nation.

We will be watching. We wish Katrina Legarda and her legal team strength of heart, endurance, light.