Campaign calls for Filipinas to speak out

Campaign calls for Filipinas to speak out
Against sexual assault
Rachelle Cruz speaking at National Ethnic Press Council meeting on Jan. 7.
From left, Cruz, Mithi Esguerra and Judith Gonzales

By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

A Toronto Pinay media personality is trying to ignite a campaign that encourages women to raise a collective voice against sexual assault.

Rachelle Cruz has teamed up with other women’s groups in an apparent effort to break silence and has launched #FilipinasSpeakout to start the conversation on the topic of women’s rights in the Filipino community. “A lot of it is rooted in the patriarchal society. There are certain beliefs that are traditional and that no longer serves us today. Being outspoken is not really a thing and being assertive for a Filipina, there is sort of a reservation,” said Cruz.
“Part of it is saving face, you don’t want to embarrass your family or your community. It’s such a hard topic to talk about,” she added.

Cruz said the alleged sexual assault happened in April 2017. She immediately sought the police and filed the case. But she said she waited until recently to speak out because the legal process was still going through the courts. A peace bond eliminated the sexual assault charges against her alleged attacker in April 2018.

“How can someone just move on with their life carefree like nothing happened?” she recounted.

After having published her story in The Philippine Reporter, Cruz said the reception from her #MeToo story led her to take action. She said becoming a journalist made her cognizant of her responsibility to inform, and her role to transform lives.

“There’s a lot of vulnerable people in our community that it’s not being addressed. The goal now is to talk about what silences women — fear, intimidation and the lack of justice,” she said.

According to Statistics Canada, only half of substantiated sexual assaults even make it to court. And of those, only 12 percent, or about one in 10 result in a criminal conviction.

Some Toronto Filipino leaders expressed their support for Cruz and the campaigning with the objectives to help in create awareness, raise funding/resources for caregivers, and to address lax judicial system when it comes to sexual assault or violence against women cases.

For women’s group Gabriela-Ontario, participating in the campaign will generate dialogue among community members. Despite an increased societal awareness about sexual assault, it continues to be a persistent issue in Canada, where it remains one of the most underreported crimes.

“Should they need support regarding sexual assault or abuse of any kind, there are sources within the community and that they don’t have to be afraid to speak out,” said Mithi Esguerra of Gabriela-Ontario.

“We also want to inform women who are victims of sexual assault in our community that the struggle for them to be heard is part of a much larger struggle we as Filipinos, and society as a whole, need to participate in,” Esguerra added. “There must be a united outcry on this situation. This is just part of greater changes that we need to work towards.”

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