A lot has been said and written, even a poem romanticizing rape, on the sexual assault that allegedly happened at the Iligan National Writers Workshop a few weeks ago.
Rape is an abominable crime. The victim, in our damaged society, often suffer blame for “encouraging” the act as well as the excruciating stigma of being dubbed “damaged goods.”
That a victim bravely made public such an assault took a lot of courage, lending great credence to her claim. Such fact must not be perfunctorily dismissed, as is clearly the case immediately following the complainant’s publication of her ordeal.
Instead of assuring it will investigate and promising justice if the complaint is found to be true, it appears that the workshop organizers and their defenders took to professing their personal literary and even moral credentials in a vain attempt to shield themselves from accountability for an incident that should never have happened under their watch. They likewise politicized the issue, hinting that this is less about sexual assault but more an attack on their political principal widely known for misogynist acts and statements.
What the organizers cannot deny, however, is that a workshop fellow raised a complaint about sexual assault, with a workshop panelist as the perpetrator, and with the incident happening right at the official residence of the workshop fellows and panelists. That the organizers refused or failed to immediately start a formal investigation or to formally inform the police of the incident betray a terrible lack of awareness and also an inability or refusal to make the workshop a safe space for participants.
Worse, it is deplorable to see respected authors and poets clearly rushing to protect the accused sexual predator, totally ignoring the power dynamics between speakers and mentors and their younger fellows. After the accused admitted to taking advantage of a situation, we did not see from the workshop organizers’ a condemnation of his predatory act and an admission of their failure to prevent such from happening. If only for the latter, they must be held accountable.
Their even more preposterous argument would have us believe that the accused and the organizers must not be judged on the case at hand but on their past good deeds, on a very subjective scale benefitting a small group of people. That latter position, taken to its logical conclusion, would forgive administrators of institutions providing charitable aid to vulnerable sectors for abuses heaped on the very people they claim to serve. That stand reflects the sycophantic nature of our politics and many of our institutions, where the bottomline is patronage and largesse dispensed and received.
Such unfortunate sense of entitlement must not be allowed to infect arts and culture.
Again, accountability, akin to criticism, is sacrosanct to people. It must be as well to artists who have great power over how society thinks and acts. The reported sexual assault in Iligan must be investigated and, if found true, punished, not excused. #
Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity
Aug. 10, 2019