By Joyce Ann Isidro

What is an Hija?

An Hija is a young, quiet, and sweet girl. She is respectful to her elders; she knows to stay silent during serious conversations which only involves the adults. An Hija doesn’t have a voice—like a porcelain doll, she is delicate; a decoration meant only to be pretty, to be a trophy flaunted around and boasted by her parents to other relatives and friends.

But the women of the present generation are changing the definition of the word.

In some instances, being called ‘hija’ can be heartwarming. The people who use it are generally well-meaning. Grandparents call their grandchildren hija; old ladies call young men and women hijo/hija when they ask for help to cross the street. Hija, in situations like these, is a term of endearment—an expression of affection by an elder to a younger person.

It was not the case between Ben Tulfo and Frankie Pangilinan.

ICYMI: A Twitter quarrel between the two erupted last Saturday, where Ben condescendingly calls Frankie ‘Hija’ as a response to her tweet criticizing a Facebook post by a local Quezon City police station telling girls to stop wearing shorts to avoid getting raped. She said that instead of teaching girls how to dress, people should be taught not to rape. Tulfo tells her women should always be careful with the way they dress because they might end up ‘inviting the beast’, while Frankie claps back by telling him that rape culture is a product of his line of thinking; that the way people dress should not be seen as an opportunity or invitation for rape; and that calling her ‘hija’ won’t belittle her point. [Watch ANCNews: Frankie Pangilinan calls out Ben Tulfo for belittling her stand against rape]

Their exchange quickly went viral, sparking nationwide conversations on rape culture and victim-blaming in the country and, consequently, the #HijaAko movement, which inspired several women to come forward with their past experiences of sexual violence. Disk jockey Kat Alano shared to Twitter her story about getting raped by someone whose name #rhymeswithwrong. Janina Vela, a YouTube influencer, shared her experiences of getting sexually assaulted as a teenager. Many other women shared their stories, inspiring more and more to come forward. Suddenly, the tides are changing. Women openly declare that they are Hijas, using their voices and platforms to challenge the status quo.

According to the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey, 1 in 20 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. In 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority recorded more than 2,000 rape cases reported to the Philippine National Police. But how accurate are these numbers, really, when a large number of sex violence frequently goes unreported? What about the women who don’t have platforms or even just the luxury of the internet to speak about their experiences? What about those who never speak up, but still carry the burden of the trauma for the rest of their lives? What about those who are too afraid to say anything? If you took the time to ask every woman in your life about their personal experiences with sexual violence, I’m sure every single one would have something to share—from being groped in public places to receiving sexual advances from their own relatives. I don’t even have a proper grasp of how much higher than 2,000 that number would be if all cases of rape were recorded.

But why do they never report it? Wouldn’t it be less complicated if they just spoke up?

Survivors of sexual assault often don’t because people don’t always believe them. Most of them get called names, shamed, and accused of being liars. In court trials for rape and sexual assault cases, the incident is repeated over and over to the victim, as if forcing them to relive their traumatic experiences. Cases that never get settled remain “alleged,” and the experiences of the victims of these alleged rape cases echo the fears of those who don’t report. They’d rather seek help from support groups to help overcome the trauma rather than seek justice, because the justice system, as we all probably know by now, isn’t always fair.

It astounds me how the issue of whose fault it is on the matter of sexual violence is still an ongoing debate like we’re in the 1920’s. We’ve been fighting for centuries and we’re exhausted. People still blame women—the way they dress, look, or even smell is viewed as an invitation for assault. And what’s even more incredulous is how most men who commit these crimes get away with it, even when they outrightly admit it. Even the President himself admitted to having sexually assaulted their housemaid when he was 16. It’s sickening how people like him rarely ever get held accountable.

For as long as I can remember, women are always blamed when they get sexually assaulted. We’re always, as they say, “asking for it”—with our skimpy shorts and plunging necklines that the beasts just can’t resist. To prevent getting raped, we should dress modestly. Act demurely. Do not, at all costs, be a temptation for the predators.

Victims of physical violence don’t get nearly as much blame as victims of sexual violence. If a person gets hit on the head, you don’t tell them they should’ve worn a helmet to avoid the blow—you punish the person who hit them. If a person gets murdered in cold blood, you don’t say that they deserved it because they didn’t protect themselves enough—you punish the murderer. But in the case of sexual violence, it seems like it’s the victim we frequently punish.

“If they didn’t want to get raped, they should’ve worn different clothes!”

“With that dress, she’s definitely asking for it.”

But what about the children who get raped at 6 years old? Should they have covered up their diapers? What about the old women getting assaulted at the supposed safety of their own homes? Were their dusters too revealing?

There is no other cause for rape but rapists. It shouldn’t be too hard to understand.

Our society is notorious for victim blaming and the normalization of rape. While women are constantly criticized for being openly sexual and taking autonomy over their own bodies, boys were rarely held accountable: boys will be boys, they say. Their ‘we just can’t help it, it’s in our nature to be sexually aroused when we see attractive women’ narrative has always been their scapegoat. They compare themselves to beasts with predatory instincts that they just can’t control, like a shark going wild at the smell of blood. As Ben Tulfo put it, sexy ladies should be careful with the way they dress, because they might be ‘inviting the beast’.

But is that really it? Would men really rather admit that they’re animals rather than take responsibility?

The truth of the matter is that most rapists and assaulters don’t seem like beasts. The media’s representation of rape – of a man who becomes rabid at the sight of their victim – isn’t always accurate. Usually, they’re friends, classmates, coworkers, lovers, and in worst case scenarios, family members. Victims commonly get threatened, coerced, or blackmailed by these people into sexual activities, and they rarely ever report because sometimes, it takes years for the reality that they were victimized by the people who are close to them to sink in.

Even if more and more Hijas are coming forward and sharing their stories, it will only end up as a meaningless protest if women are still blamed for rape and the perpetrators aren’t held accountable for their actions. As long as rape culture remains normalized, we’d only be producing more and more rapists who refuse to take responsibility. As long as the perpetrators of sexual violence walk free and their victims suffer hell, the fight is not yet over.

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