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Rodrigo Duterte

Rape ‘jokes’ from the Philippines’ Duterte trivialise sexual violence

Reuben James Barrete says the Philippine president’s repeated use of the topic of rape to raise laughs glorifies and normalises such acts, desensitising a country where a woman or child is raped each hour

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 6:24pm

President Rodrigo Duterte is a figure of power in the Philippines, but instead of using this strength to protect the people, this “strongman” – as most people call him – regards rape as a matter of entertainment. Worse, he uses it as encouragement for the military: after imposing martial law in Mindanao, he told soldiers stationed there that they were allowed to rape up to three women.

This tasteless joke is nothing but an encouragement of the normalisation of rape culture, and ignores the misery that results from such crimes.

Violence against women feeds on a culture that promotes [their] exploitation and oppression

A report by the Philippine Commission on Women shows one woman or child is raped every hour in the country. This is based on police records cited by the Centre for Women’s Resources from January to October last year, wherein there were 7,303 reported rape cases in the entire country.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported 4,605 cases of rape, acts of lasciviousness, and attempted and incestuous rape in 2016, for women alone.

These figures are not just statistics; these are people who have been delivered a life sentence of perpetual hurting.

Violence against women feeds on a culture that promotes the exploitation and oppression of women, and turns them into dehumanised sexual objects.

It is alarming that many people in the Philippines simply dismiss Duterte’s remark as a joke and do not see that such words could hurt. People think their president means no harm. As long as this kind of thinking persists, whatever Duterte says, no matter how outrageous, will be treated as normal.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte condemned for remarks designed to boost troops’ morale

Last year, when Duterte was running for the presidency, he made headlines for a horrifying “joke” about an Australian missionary who was held hostage, raped, and had her throat slashed before being shot, in 1989. “I was angry because she was raped, that’s one thing. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.” He was referring to himself. The crowd burst into laughter.

Duterte’s words only serve to remind women that in a patriarchal society, they still have to fight for their rights every day.

Rape jokes are aggressive and violent. By repeatedly treating rape as a laughing matter, Duterte glorifies sexual violence, desensitising us as society and indicating that it is acceptable.

It is important that we encourage “don’t rape” instead of “don’t get raped”. Let us remember that even if we are so steeped in our own political beliefs and inherent biases, rape is rape – and it has no place in our society.

Reuben James Barrete is a development worker focusing on human rights and social protection. He is finishing his master’s degree in international studies at the University of the Philippines