Harassment is something that a human mind could sense. When someone, even if it were a child, is being harassed, he or she knows it. Sexual harassment cases occur among girls and women of all ages.
These were the words I heard from the speaker of an anti-sexual harassment forum I attended when I was in first year college. I think most of these cases are unresolved and are only kept secret by offended parties because of two reasons: some threatened by their offenders and some kept their secrets by choice. I chose to be on the second category.
It all started one morning, when my parents were out doing the usual pamalengke for Sunday lunch. I was five. I loved to stay in the sala while waiting for my parents because I like seeing the goods they bought for Sunday lunch. We would usually have a festive lunch every Sunday so we would invite my father’s buddy, Bobong, who had been, ever since I remember, a close friend of the family. What would make us aware of his arrival would be his signature way of saying “Ayo!” as he’d climb his way up our house. He would come to our house in every occasion—big and small ones. Big ones like my younger brother Ponkik’s first birthday where he led the slaughtering of the big pig for lechon, my youngest brother Langgay’s dedication day and small ones like ordinary drinking sessions and tong-its card games with my father and their other friends.
He was my father’s partner especially in their vices—smoking, drinking, and most of all, sabong. Bobong lived in a small room in the gallera. I had been there myself, once.
He wasn’t a problem because Bong, as my mother addressed him, was so friendly and funny. I especially liked him. I would always dance and sway as he sang karaoke in our sala. My favorite song that he would sing was Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.” Every time I would sing that, I would be reminded of how he would sing it like a pro. I was even closer to him than to my father. The only thing weird about his presence was that every time he would come over, my father would ask my mother to wear a t-shirt instead of a sleeveless top. Nonetheless, I thought Bobong was a nice person.
Perpetrators may be strangers or someone who is already known to the victim. Some cases of abuse happen inside their own homes, mostly committed by close relatives like uncles or stepfathers and some, close friends of the victim’s parents.
Bobong was in his 60s. His hair was entirely white, but sometimes, he dyed it with black. I think this was to hide the age a little bit. He liked that he would be mistaken to be younger. He had a dark complexion. His smile showed a fake silver front tooth. He had big rough wrinkled fingers with long yellowish dirty fingernails that always smelled like cigarette. From what I heard from Mama, he had three children, two girls and one boy but when he and his wife separated, the children lived with their mother and he was left alone in his small room in the gallera. He said his children were still writing letters to him. Once, he even showed us a picture of his daughter, Sarah, who had married a German guy and now lives in Germany with her own family.
Every time he came over, I would sit in his lap and watch TV with him. I liked to sit in his lap because I liked the smell of cigarettes on his hand. Maybe that’s why I like to smoke today. There were also times when he and Papa would play cards and I would sit in his lap, asking him questions about which cards to draw and which cards to keep. I felt that kind of bond never existed between me and Papa.
That morning, I sat on the couch watching cartoons in the living room. My brothers were busy playing computer games in one of the bedrooms and being the only girl, I was the only one who could not relate to them so I decided to watch TV. I was wearing my favorite white house dress with a big green heart on the middle when I heard Mang Bong.
My mother wasn’t there, so I was the one who let him in.
He sat on the couch with me and lit a cigarette. I continued watching cartoons. I was on the right side edge of the couch and he on the other. I thought that gap between us was very awkward because no one was talking. That was when I realized it was my first time to be alone with Mang Bong. I avoided looking at him. I tried to enjoy watching TV but there was a certain something that I could not explain. A feeling that something bad was going to happen. I
wanted to leave that time but some force pinned me to the couch. Maybe I was curious about what would happen. He was the one who broke the silence.
“Ano yang ginatingnan mo, Jey? (What are you watching, Jey?)
“Cartoons,” I said, still not looking at him.
But he did not stay in his place on the left side of the couch. He slowly moved towards where I was sitting. I tried not to mind that gesture since the room where my brothers were was open. He couldn’t do anything bad. My brothers could see him. But he still continued to move until he was next to me. I could feel that he was already beside me because not only did I smell the smoke he let out but also the smell of the cigarette residue on his body. He made a last puff of his cigarette and threw it out of the window.
“Huwag ka maingay sa Mama mo ha” (Don’t tell your mother), he whispered.
After that, he stroked his hand repeatedly against my thighs. I swallowed, still not looking in his direction. I breathed heavily but didn’t let him notice that. He then spread my legs, reached under my panties and inserted his fingers inside me. I felt the sharpness of his dirty fingernails but I didn’t scream. I was more worried about my brothers seeing what he was doing. But he didn’t stop with that. He slipped his other hand on my dress and pinched my right nipple. Repeatedly. It was a strange sensation. It was new. Something told me it was wrong. That this whole thing he was doing was wrong. He stopped fondling me when we heard the beep of my father’s motorcycle. He greeted my mother good morning as if nothing had happened.
Baker and Duncan say that a child is sexually abused when another person, who is sexually mature, involves the child in any activity which the other person expects to lead to their sexual arousal. This might involve intercourse, touching, exposure of the sexual organs, showing pornographic material, or talking about sexual things in an erotic way.
I did not know this until I got older. But that time, I felt that what he was doing was wrong. Maybe because I thought that the things he did was never done by any person close to me.
But that wasn’t the last time he did that. It was just the first—of many. I felt that what he was doing was wrong but I could not understand why I let it be. I realized that as time went by, I started feeling pleasure in what he was doing to me.
Whenever he came over, I would immediately sit in his lap and put a pillow over my lap and he would begin. It was like a habit. Every time, he got bolder and bolder in touching me. There was even a time when he was doing it when my parents were there and when we were sitting on the couch with my brothers. He was just very discreet that even if my parents were there, they never noticed. He never threatened me. I went to him willingly. Or every time no one was around, I know what was going to happen. This went on for six years and I never told my parents about it, nor anyone. Maybe I was afraid that my parents would scold me if they knew about it. Maybe I was scared that it would stop.
As I was growing up, I was beginning to be more conscious of my body. My breasts began to get bigger when I was eleven, and that stage was painful. Slowly, I distanced myself from Mang Bong and finally decided to end his abusive acts. One day, he went to our house when I was alone. I managed to give him a fake smile and continued washing the dishes. He must have realized I was alone because after some time, he approached me and hugged me from behind, letting me feel his arousal. When he was about to touch my breasts, I got out of his hold and shrugged him off. I avoided looking at him.
“Ayaw mo na?” (You don’t want it anymore?)
I nodded. And with that, he left.
It took a while before he came back to our house. My mother was even surprised that he didn’t come more often than he used to. I thought that was a good. He would still go to our house occasionally to watch basketball games on TV with my father or to have a few drinks. That was the last time he touched me.
He may not be doing those things to me anymore but until now, that scene bothered me a lot. When he asked me if I still wanted him to touch me, he was asking for my permission, as if I had always wanted him to touch me—to molest me—that everything that happened for six years was because of my approval. Did I really want those things to happen? Did I really like it too? I was ashamed. That was maybe why I never told my parents about what happened. I was afraid that maybe instead of getting angry with Mang Bong, they would be angry with me because I let it happen for a very long time. I was also afraid to tell my parents because of the things they might do to Mang Bong. They could kill him.
Whenever he would come to the house, I thought it was okay since he wasn’t touching me anymore. But it was not. He acted as if nothing happened. He would still be smiling and friendly. He would even be the first one to start a conversation with me. Maybe it was his way of telling me to forget everything that happened. I was annoyed by it because I want him to stop being “normal” to me. Or better, not come to the house anymore. I wasn’t responding to him every time he talked. To be safe, I would try to hide in our room and would just come out if he was already gone.
There are three categories of sexual abuse aftereffects: physical, behavioral, and emotional. Physical effects may include urethral, vaginal and anal injuries and STD. Behavioral effects may include nightmares, and sleep difficulties, compulsive masturbation, suicidal attempts, and promiscuity. Emotional effects may include feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, and depression, an inability to trust, difficulty with intimacy and relationships—romantic, friendly and even family.
When he stopped doing that to me, I thought I felt relieved because no one was bothering me anymore. There were nights when I thought of what happened in the past six years and how it happened. In those nights, I was curious about what I would feel if it were me touching myself, so I tried. I tried to do as he used to and explored myself. Maybe that was when I discovered masturbation. I liked touching myself but every time I do it, I would feel guilty afterwards. I didn’t know why.
Until one time, when I was in elementary school, a catechist had a lecture on the seven capital sins. Lust was one of them. The old lady said that lust covers having sexual desires and dishonoring one’s body. She said that the body is a temple of God so one should not do anything to disgrace one’s own body. I felt as if I was committing a sin every time I touched myself. I blamed myself for letting Bobong touch me in the first place. That made even me angrier with him and with myself for letting my guard down.
But then, even though I was enrolled in a Catholic school in high school, I continued touching myself. I couldn’t resist doing it. But every time I did, I prayed for forgiveness and promised to try my best not to do it again.
When I entered UP later on, I learned that having these desires are just natural because I am a human being. I did not have to ask for forgiveness because sexual desires are normal. I was just unlucky because I happened to discover it because of a traumatic childhood. I felt like something was stolen from me. I could have discovered it by exploring my body on my own.
Whenever I touch myself, I never thought about what Bobong did. It wasn’t an act of abuse to my own body but a thought that my body is my own. I would think of masturbation as an act to pleasure myself without having someone do it for me. It is an act that shows I am in control of my own body and nobody can ever take that away from me.
But still, the abuse had effects on me. I now had mistrust towards old men who sound very friendly and smiling. I feel that anytime I would give my trust to them, they would take advantage of me like what Bobong did. I have had my boyfriends before but I feel that what I had with them was just temporary. After a few months of dating them, I would break up with them because I got tired and bored.
Dealing with this traumatic experience was really difficult. I tried not to mind it in my early years but eventually, I started processing what really happened and how I felt about it. I would think of it whenever I am alone in my room and cry. I would cry because of hatred towards Bobong. Sometimes, I wished something bad would happen to him but thinking of his current situation, dying a lonely death is enough. Yet even when both of us die, I will never forget this experience. And even if he’d ask, I will never forgive him.
Every time I think of what happened, I would remember my father’s order to my mom to dress decently whenever Bobong was there. But then, I never wore revealing clothes when he was molesting me. Even though I wore jogging pants, he would still reach into my pants and do what he desired. I realized it is never the woman’s appearances that make her a victim of abuse. It was the perpetrator’s desire to do so. I never wanted him to touch me. Never. Victims should not blame themselves for whatever their abusers did to them. They never wanted to be molested, raped, or abused in any way.
Jecia earned her degree in Bachelor of Arts in English (Creative Writing) at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She attended the Davao Writers Workshop as a fellow for Creative Non-Fiction in 2014. She hopes to find true love and happiness someday.