The revelations of sexual harassment in STAND-UP over the past week exposed grave offenses, as well our alliance’s failure to promptly and adequately respond to the problem. I have since drafted this open letter to offer unsolicited advice, and, I hope, a measure of comfort and encouragement.
Through this letter, I would like to reach out in reassurance, support and solidarity with the victims. I also invite the perpetrators to come forward, be held accountable for their behaviors, and repair the harm they have caused. I also put forward some ideas for the student movement to consider in its ongoing efforts to correct errors and inadequacies. I conclude with a humble appeal to the wider community of comrades, supporters, and allies.
To begin, let me share a little bit about myself and why I wrote this letter. As a student at UP Diliman, I was active in campus politics and extracurricular activities. In fact, I spent more time in my organizations than my academics (not recommended). I never joined STAND-UP or its allied organizations. While I respected their commitment and passion, I was a vocal critic of their brand of leadership, believing it too militant yet lacking in concrete solutions. Eventually, I left the university bubble and, as a social worker, confronted the harsh realities of communities at the margins of Philippine society. Upon deeper reflection and study, I came to realize the correctness of STAND-UP’s approach to politics.
Fast-forward to the present, my social work practice is focused on tackling sexual abuse, domestic violence, and patriarchy in its myriad forms. In my daily professional life, I lead teams of case managers and counsellors who work with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. There is consensus in the international and national research that violence against women and gender minorities arises in the social context of gender inequality.
To put it simply, gender inequality is where women and men do not have equal social status, power, resources or opportunities, and their voices, ideas and work are not valued equally by society. This imbalance of power is the foundation for the prevalence of sexual harassment, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based oppression. Male entitlement and other manifestations of misogyny is rooted in their assumed right to exercise power over women, which is reflected in norms, attitudes, and behaviors that value aggression, dominance, and control. While these abuses are not limited to heterosexual relationships, the vast majority of perpetrators are men and the vast majority of victims are women.
All these are deeply entrenched cultural problems rooted in socio-economic realities, which can only be overcome through humility, self-awareness, and conscious remolding at the individual level. Collectively, the fight to dismantle patriarchy is part and parcel of the struggle for genuine social change. I believe it is important for STAND-UP to keep this framework in mind for any attempt to rectify errors, heal wounds, and rebuild trust.
To the victims
I am deeply sorry to hear about your experience of sexual harassment and abuse. I admire your courage to come forward and talk about it, and I am dismayed to learn that many of you have suffered in silence for years. Please know that what happened to you was not your fault, and that you’re not alone.
Such an experience can inflict deep emotional wounds, so it’s important to learn how to take care of yourself at this time. This is not something you need to do on your own. You can seek out support from friends, family members, or a therapist, who will be there to carry the load with you. Talking about what happened can be difficult, but it can also help clarify your thoughts and feelings, and begin to heal.
Healing is a journey, and it is okay to take things one day at a time. There is no right way to feel or heal, and your journey will be unique to you. It is okay to have good days and bad days, and it is okay to get some help when you need it.
There are several options for seeking justice, based on what feels right for you. You may also consider reaching out to the university offices that specialize in supporting survivors of sexual abuse. They can provide resources, information, and other forms of support.
Above all, please know that you are not defined by what has happened to you.
If you need help or information, please get in touch with me through my Facebook contact details below.
To the perpetrators
Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based violence that has no place in our society, and no place in our movement. Sexual harassment in any context is unacceptable, and we all have a responsibility to create a safe and respectful environment for our members and comrades.
Sexual harassment can take many forms, from unwanted comments or advances, to physical contact or assault. It is never okay to make someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their own skin. Harassment is not about attraction or flirting – it is about power and control.
All of us joined the student movement because we wanted to make a difference, to attain liberation from the oppression, neglect, and injustice all around us. And yet, while struggling for change and social justice at the macro level, you have committed injustice at the micro level. Your actions have caused tremendous harm.
This is a good time to reflect on why you felt the need to harass, abuse, and manipulate others. Yes, we are all products of a society marked by deeply-entrenched patriarchy and misogyny. But as activism teaches us, we can, and should, do better.
I hope that hearing from the victims and their supporters have since helped you understand what happened as a result of your behavior. More importantly, I hope it leads you to a commitment to grow, as an activist and as a human being.
Desistance theory, Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA), motivational interviewing, and other evidence-based approaches exist to help people stop their abusive behavior. Whilst some might question why perpetrators should receive any support at all, this is the only way to prevent future abuse.
If you need support in this process of unlearning and learning, and in dealing with the situation, please know that we are also here for you. Please get in touch through the contact details at the end of this letter.
To the alliance
Sexual harassment has a devastating impact on individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. It is essential that all organizations take proactive steps to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. And it is all the more important for an activist organization to be a space free from sexual harassment, abuse, and other forms of gender-based violence. Indeed, the history of people’s movements across the world shows that high-minded progressive rhetoric is empty until this is embodied in everyday interpersonal interactions.
In other words, the best of political activism results from people walking the talk and practicing what they preach. I trust STAND-UP will bear this in mind, take a principled approach to the issues, and honor their commitment to victims and the wider community. To this end, I hold hope that STAND-UP will:
- Collectively develop clear policies and procedures to address sexual harassment – ideally with genuine consultation with victims. Specify that reforms include a zero-tolerance policy, which clearly defines sexual harassment, outlines reporting procedures, and ensures confidentiality and protection of whistleblowers from retaliation.
- Prioritize training and education grounded in feminist, progressive approaches to help prevent sexual harassment and gender-based violence from occurring in the first place. The training content can include both theoretical guidance on gender-based violence, as well as practical methods for real-world application.
- Take swift and appropriate action to investigate both the complaints and the lapses of the organization in responding to those complaints. Cooperate with university services and proper authorities, providing support and resources to victims, and taking disciplinary action against perpetrators.
- Ensure the integrity, impartiality, safety, and rigor of investigations by immediately placing alleged perpetrators under preventive suspension, especially if they hold leadership positions. Similarly, observe due diligence in managing perceived or actual conflicts of interest that may arise in the investigations.
- Be proactive in setting an example of transparency and accountability. With due regard for the privacy and safety of all persons involved, a report could be published to summarize the investigation findings, disciplinary measures, and other actions undertaken arising from this controversy. This level of openness is necessary to regain the trust of students and the university community.
To the mass movement
I am deeply saddened that sexual harassment has taken place in STAND-UP. Sexual harassment is a serious issue that has had a devastating impact on individuals and undermined the integrity of our movement as a whole. The recent revelations show how sexual harassment has cast a dark shadow of silence, fear, distrust, and despair in the ranks of youth and student activists.
All this is a tremendous disservice to our comrades and fellow advocates, activists, organizers, and mass leaders, who continue to face unrelenting and worsening attacks from the reactionary regime.
Through nearly three decades of spirited activism and arduous struggle, STAND-UP has established a long tradition of serving the people and helping build a better society, including ending all forms of gender-based violence and attaining gender equality. However, just like any other organization made up of flawed human beings, the alliance also makes mistakes and falls short.
I humbly appeal to your sense of solidarity, patience, and generosity to extend whatever support and guidance you can provide to the student members and leaders of STAND-UP, as they strive to rectify and rebuild. This process will take time, but rest assured that it will be worth the effort and sacrifice.
The past few days have taught all of us bitter, yet necessary lessons. May we rise to the challenge with renewed unity, heed the clamor for principled action, and set an example for putting an end to gender-based violence.
Together, let us exercise utmost discipline and set high standards for ethical conduct. Together, let us protect victims’ safety and dignity, supporting their journey to recovery.
Together, let us hold perpetrators accountable, guiding them to repair the harm they caused.
Together, let us champion not only collective action, but also collective care.
Together, let us strive for internal transformation, as we mobilize for genuine social change.
The author wrote this open letter in an individual capacity. The views he expressed do not necessarily represent the positions of his organizations or affiliations.