The thing about getting groped is that it'll catch you completely off guard. For some, it takes a few seconds or minutes before they can react, while others are more alert. That said, when you respond is as important as how you assert yourself and your rights.
We've witnessed this recently with designer Mich Dulce, who immediately called out the man who groped her. Mich's reflexive response was to reprimand the man, but Myra Puyat Santiago, florist and owner of August Flowers, took control of a similar situation quite differently. Like the designer, she, too, didn't sit idly when she received an unwelcome touch from a man. In fact, she didn't let him go until the matter reached the authorities.
According to Myra, it happened while she was watching a movie with her boyfriend. Halfway through the film, she suddenly felt heat on her thigh. "I checked my jeans and I was confused, but after thinking it through, I had a bad feeling I was getting touched without my consent," says the florist. She brushed it off at first, not giving in to her suspicions, "I knew that I needed to be 100% sure so that I could be firm in my accusations, so I sat and pretended to watch the movie." She didn't even tell her boyfriend about it, since it really was still an inkling.
But it wasn't long until Myra got the confirmation she needed. "The hand came back, crawling up my thigh like an ipis [cockroach]," she recalls. Turns out, the man seated next to her was indeed groping her leg. "I actually waited for it to reach the middle of my thigh before I grabbed it, twisted it, and yanked his hand [away]," she recalls. She and her boyfriend then brought him outside to the theater lobby, with the man insisting that it was a mistake.
While her boyfriend called security, Myra blocked the door to the lobby so the man couldn't leave. "He kept trying to pass and I didn't let him until he finally just shoved me to the side and ran away, she says. However, she didn't let him escape, immediately running after the man—in heels, no less! Thankfully, security caught the culprit at the exit upon hearing her exclaim, "Magnanakaw! [Thief!]" as she sprinted. "The guards treated my blisters with Betadine after," she quips.
After, they proceeded to file an incident report at the mall's security office, then were escorted to the barangay station to have the man's confession in writing. "I didn't leave until it was done," she deadpans. The florist adds that even then, they couldn't get him to admit what he did. "The only way I got him to admit to it was to badger him for hours," she says, "I literally stared him in the face and said, 'You can lie all you want but you and I know that you're a pervert.' I wore him down."
The man gave up eventually, but only when he was questioned without Myra in the room. "I had the option to take it to the police and file a case, but I felt I had done enough. It was a very draining experience though, and it was just groping in a movie theater," she admits. The one thing she wanted in the end was to record the perpetrator's name in the police blotter to deter him from doing the same thing to other women.
"We all kind of laugh about it now because my reaction then was explosive," she muses, "but that's what is needed to make these guys understand that they've been unmasked. I was more angry that he tried to make it seem like I was imagining things." She also weighed in on her boyfriend’s response in the situation, "He normally would be the guy to kick someone's ass, but he said when he saw me, he knew didn't need to step in."
This story just goes to show that having presence of mind always pays off. If the same thing happens to you, remember that it’s normal to be confused and emotional, but you don’t have to let him get away with it.
We asked Atty. Marco Lainez and Atty. Emma Cabochan some FAQs in case you have a comparable run-in:
Is groping considered sexual harassment?
Atty. Lainez: "In the situation, it appears that the main concern is ordinary harassment (not sexual harassment as defined by law). Still, such acts may constitute criminal offenses (at the very least the crime of Acts of Lasciviousness under Art. 336 of the Revised Penal Code), depending on the circumstances."
When faced with a situation like groping, what are the steps that you recommend a victim take?
Atty. Cabochan: "Sexual harassment, rape, and similar cases are usually a 'he said, she said' situation. I suggest that during the incident or attack, if it is possible to call people’s attention to what the attacker is doing (for example, talk loudly and say 'What are you doing? Why are you touching my breasts? Stop it.'), do so. And make sure to say 'stop' or something similar to clearly communicate to them and to the public that you do not consent to what is being done. That way, if witnesses are needed, there are available options. Also, in a 'he said, she said' scenario, it would be hard for the person to say 'I was confused. I did not know she was saying no.'"
Atty. Lainez: "There is no standard answer to this as each situation would be different. I would recommend that the victim immediately get assistance local police authorities (if available). If there is imminent danger, the victim may apply reasonable means to defend himself/herself."
What should victims avoid doing in such a situation so as to not hurt their case?
Atty. Cabochan: "Don't change stories, make excuses for the culprit, doubt herself and her rights, hide or be ashamed of her sexuality."
What is a police blotter? What does it do exactly?
Atty. Lainez: "It simply refers to the book/log of law enforcement officials wherein they summarize arrests and/or reports made by complainants. Such records may be submitted to the Office of the Prosecutor to help initiate a criminal complaint."
How can a victim make sure that their report is solid?
Atty. Cabochan: "After the incident, report it immediately. Again, since it's 'he said, she said,' it’s important to be able to recall and cite crucial details such as the when, where, who, how. If you do not know who, describe specifically. If there is delay, a plausible explanation is trauma or shame. So it is perfectly understandable but it'll be better to act ASAP and not lose evidence."
In the topic of self-defense, how can a victim be exempted from physical assault charges if they hurt the person who groped them?
Atty Cabochan: "If you hurt the person during the attack, that is exempting (makes you non-liable) already. However, the manner of defending yourself should be reasonable/commensurate to [their actions]. If it is gravely disproportionate, then the victim may partly be held liable but mitigated since it happened during the incident. [The act of self-defense] cannot occur after it since that would be revenge."
Atty Lainez: "The existence of self-defense is a separate issue from the existence of the initial crime committed," says the lawyer. He states the circumstances Act No. 3815 that will spcifically excuse a victim from liability:
1. There was unlawful aggression. "It must amount to an actual or imminent threat to the life and limb of the accused claiming self-defense," he adds.
2. What the victim did was a reasonable way to prevent or repel it.
3. There was a lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the victim claiming self-defense.
If these three apply, a victim can be exempted from assault charges.
Evidence is usually a dilemma in incidents like this, especially if there are no witnesses. How can a victim strengthen their claim?
Atty. Lainez: "The best evidence of course would be the testimonies of independent witnesses, or at the very least CCTV footage of the incident. Likewise, other forensic evidence (if present) can be submitted (i.e. fingerprints, strands of hair, etc.) may help strengthen the victim's narrative."
Myra and Mich's stories are only two out of the hundreds (or even thousands) that happen daily. The fight against it is definitely not over, so we must encourage each other to stand up for ourselves when the situation calls for it. Because while the law exists to protect us, we could also be our own heroes and heroines at the end of the day.