Out of the Shadow: Bringing Light on Sexual Harassment at UPLB

  • Written by  Sairah Mae R. Saipudin
  • Published in Features
Out of the Shadow: Bringing Light on Sexual Harassment at UPLB © OVCRE/Lawrence N. Garcia

The University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) is a premier academic institution which has become home to many students, employees, and visitors. However, even a home could be unsafe for its people.

Imagine yourself walking on a dark deserted street, alone. Maybe you are already going home from a groupmate’s house after a night of finishing a laboratory report, or from a party you had just enjoyed.

As you walk, you hear strange sounds following you.They get louder by the second. You could feel someone is watching you but you do not know the person’s exact location. As you quicken your pace, a silhouette of a person suddenly appears in front of you.

What would you do?

Other students, just like Mica*, an 18 year old student from UPLB, would panic at the sight of impending danger.

“Maliban siguro sa mga gamit ko na pwedeng ibato, wala na akong ipanglalaban sa kanya. Who knows ‘di ba? Baka saktan ka or ano,” Mica recounts.

Mica’s story is one of the many stories of sexual harassment that have occurred in UPLB. Rape cases have also been recorded in recent years. The most unfortunate cases were those of rape-slay victims Given Grace Cebanico, a BS Computer Science student in UPLB, and of Rochel Geronda, an underage sampaguita vendor in the campus.

Ever since the incidents, the university has imposed stricter security measures to ensure the safety of every student, worker, and person living around the community.

Defining Sexual Harassment

Julia*, a BS Computer Science student, recalls her sexual harassment experience.

She was going to a convenience store with her mother when she noticed a man following them. He entered the store when she and her mother did. The man then intentionally bumped into her and touched her hips. She initially shrugged it off. However, the man repeated the action. She decided to reprimand the man immediately.

“Sinigawan ko siya,” Julia shared. “Sabi ko, bakit siya dikit nang dikit. Kanina pa siya nagpapapansin. Nagulat si mommy kung bakit ko biglang sinigawan ‘yun.”

At first, she was traumatized by the incident until her friend advised her not to be scared.

She would not be able to defend herself when a similar thing happens again if she would remain scared. Though she is braver now, she still feels uncomfortable when she is alone.

Mica’s and Julia’s experiences with strangers are forms of sexual harassment. The primer from the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women defines sexual harassment as “any unwanted sexual attention that is explicitly or implicitly made a condition for favourable decision affecting ones’ employment or school standing, or that which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment in school or workplace.”

It could be verbal or physical. It also comes in many forms--looking, winking, catcalling, joking with sexual undertones, and overt act of violence such as rape or attempted rape. This wide definition could aid in protecting people from any form of sexual harassment better, but it could also mean that it would be difficult to report and record all cases.

Documenting sexual harassment in the university

The UPLB Office of Anti-Sexual Harassment (OASH) under the UPLB Gender Center was established in 2002 to monitor sexual harassment that occurs within the university in compliance with RA 7877, otherwise known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995.

It also aims to help the university maintain an intellectual and moral environment wherein the dignity of the members of its academic community is guaranteed. In addition, the office undertakes information and educational activities to ensure that university policy, rules, and regulations on sexual harassment are disseminated to the community.

Reported cases are investigated with utmost confidentiality and respect for due process. Retaliation from parties directly or indirectly involved with the cases would not be tolerated. It would even be subject for disciplinary action.

Since its conception, OASH has received a total of 55 complaints related to sexual harassment. The most number of cases (11) was reported in 2012 followed by 2014 (10 cases). The least number of cases, 1, was reported in 2002 which was the year when the office was established. Thirty-five complainants were female, 11 were male, while 9 did not indicate their gender.

Majority of the aggressors reported were male. Two of the reported cases had an aggressor who is female. Meanwhile, three were documented as done by a group, and was not categorized by gender.

Majority of the complainants were students. However, majority of the aggressors were also students, followed closely by teachers, non-UPLB individuals, and administrative staff, respectively. The number of cases of peer-to-peer sexual harassment is more than the number of sexual harassment cases between superior and staff, or professor-student.

Student-student sexual harassment (21%) is higher than student-teacher harassment (15%). Employee to employee (13%) sexual harassment is also higher compared to student-employee sexual harassment (6%).

The number of student-student sexual harassment cases would actually be bigger if it it is combined together with the student-group (student organization) relationship. After all, the members of the student organization are students.

Duration of cases

Once the complainant has filled out the intake form they are asked whether they will push through with a formal procedure or an informal one. Some of the complainants after filling out the intake form do not come back and follow up their complaint. The duration of the cases filed ranged from 0-468 days.

Two of the cases filed at the OASH have been referred to a different office due to its non-sexual harassment nature.

Cases which lasted for only a few number of days were those where the complainants opted to do informal procedures such as counselling, settlements, and mere documentation.

Data improvement

The data from OASH captured through the use of the intake form is still lacking. It is suggested that other variables such as time of the day the incident happened, type of location, number of people present, quality of lighting, degree of isolation or obscurity of the place should be added to the form to aid in the investigation. In fact, files such as sworn affidavits and written accounts of the details of the incidents are treated confidentially and cannot be used by OASH for records analysis. So in order to understand the phenomenon of sexual harassment further given the restrictions on information, OASH staff should become knowledgeable with concepts in sociology and psychology.

Being able to determine variables which can help form policies will make the management and staff of the office much responsive to the needs of its clientele.

For example, the office can advise management on what kinds of physical structures and office designs may promote harassment and thus should be avoided.

The OASH through the UPLB Gender Center is continuously developing its staff in order to cater to the needs of the university’s constituents and keep the campus as a safe and gender-responsive learning institution.