The recent dismissal of the rape case filed by a fellow against TJ Dimacali, a panelist in the 2019 Iligan National Writers Workshop, exposes how the justice system protects only the powerful.
We stand with our sister, the survivor of rape.
We deplore the fiscal’s judgment, which echoes the INWW organizers’ claim that the incident was a “private matter between two consenting adults.” It so easily ignores the hierarchical relationship of panelist and fellow, which renders the latter vulnerable to the authority of the former. It also conveniently absolves the INWW of any responsibility in the matter. The decision reinforces what many victims already know: due process is rigged against you. This should not be the case.
The dismissal of the rape case once again proves that so much still needs to be done to dismantle the culture of sexual harassment and violence in society at large and in institutions like the INWW, where workshop fellows are at risk of treatment as fair game for those in power, i.e., the panelists or mentors. We have to remember the INWW’s (mis)handling of the case. The victim said her complaint was initially dismissed by the workshop director because the incident “was done behind closed doors and nobody heard anyone screaming, being dragged down the stairs, or thrashing about.” The INWW also released a statement where the complaint was referred to as “defamation,” an act “that would damage [INWW’s] reputation,” something that would drive INWW to “actively pursue legal action against those who would try to victimize it.” The narrow and outdated logic of the INWW regarding what sexual violence looks like and its brazen threat to use the law to silence the victim and whistleblowers only show how complicit it is in rape culture. This is unacceptable, especially in an institution that deals with many young writers.
It is the season of literary workshops. Now, more than ever, we should demand for institutional accountability in ensuring that writing workshops are safe spaces for fellows. Workshop organizers need to ensure that proper mechanisms for responding to cases of sexual violence are in place. In incidents of sexual violence, the victim’s well-being should be more important than anyone else’s reputation.
Perpetrators come from all backgrounds. They can be professionals who are less likely to be suspected of sexual violence. Women are still blamed for sexual assaults committed against them, especially when the perpetrators are renowned, beloved, and influential.
We remain firm in our position: we are with women who have to prove their credibility, rape victims who are denied justice because “hard evidence” cannot support their claims. We condemn the notion of an “ideal victim” who has to have behaved in a certain way to be believed, who has to have been coerced, threatened, and beaten in order to win a court case. To the rape victims, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, daughters, students, fellows, mentees: we are with you, we are you.