Senator files bills amid increasing incidents of online sexual harassment

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Senator Risa Hontiveros and Nicole De Castro, the student-advocate who faced sexual harassment online.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Victims of online sexual harassment can soon find solace in case a Senate bill is enacted into law.

Alarmed over the growing number of cases, Senator Risa Hontiveros filed the so-called "Tres Marias" bills on Tuesday.

It aims to combat gender-based electronic violence, peer-to-peer sexual harassment, and rape.

The proposed Gender-Based Online Violence Act seeks to impose penalties on persons behind misogynistic and homophobic attacks on women and the LGBTQ community on social media.

"This will provide remedies to electronic violence when the victim is not in a sexual relationship with the offender," Hontiveros said. The senator is chairman of the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality.

The proposed Gender-Based Online Violence Act covers:

  • harassing a woman or LGBTQ members with obscene, misogynistic, homophobic, or indecent posts on social media sites, emails, text messages;
  • unauthorized recording or taking of photos showing the victims' undergarments or naked body and sharing it without consent;
  • cyberstalking, including hacking of personal social media accounts, unauthorized use location trackers; and
  • unauthorized use and distribution of the victim's photos, videos, and identity, which exposes the victim to harassment and attack or puts the victim in a bad light.

Hontiveros said there is a "tsunami of verbal and online sexual harassment" in recent events.

"Sinubukan naming saklawin ang iba't-ibang developments na dapat ay nagbibigay ng same space para sa lahat ng tao, lalo na sa kababaihan. Ngunit sa nasasaksihan natin nitong nakaraang panahon ay kabaliktaran. Ito ay nagbibigay daan sa iba't-ibang klase ng pambibiktima sa mga kababaihan," she said.

[Translation: We tried to cover the different developments to give the same space for all, especially the women. But as we've seen in recent events, we could see the opposite happened. It gave way to different harassments against women.]

Anti-Marcos protester Nicole de Castro shared her experience when she was "attacked" on social media after rallying against the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

The photo of her protesting in the streets attracted misogynistic trolls.

De Castro, an advocate of human rights and women empowerment, said she expected to be called "stupid" and "bayaran (paid protester)," but she didn't expect to receive lewd comments.

"What I didn't expect are the ones that are below the belt – I'm sure you're aware of that. The gang rape threats. I didn't expect how rape culture is ingrained in our society," she said.

"I think we need to speak up more. This bill will help, not just me, but all the women who are harassed online and in person," De Castro added.

Read: Anti-Marcos protesters sexually harassed online, lawyer offers free legal aid

Sylvia Claudio of the UP Women's Studies said women are condemned by attacking their sexuality, citing the way Senator Leila De Lima was castigated after she admitted her former relationship with her ex-aide and the pregnancy rumors on Vice President Leni Robredo.

"Sa ngayon, isa sa pinakamadaling paraan paano mo sisirain ang isang taong kaaway mo ay banatan mo ang kaniyang pagkatao at sekswalidad, lalo na kung babae siya," Claudio said.

[Translation: Nowadays, the easiest way to bring down your enemy is to attack their sexuality, especially if that person is a woman.]

Claudio expressed her support for the bill, saying the academe is coordinating with the government in going after social media bullies, online sexual harassers, and so-called trolls.

"We do not consent to this kind of kabastusan [obscenity]. We do not consent to the harassment of young people expressing their sentiments," she said.

Anti-Rape Act and Anti-Sexual Harassment Act

The proposed Anti-Rape Act seeks to amend current laws against rape. It includes raising the age of statutory rape from 12 years old to 18 years old.

The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act, meanwhile, seeks to amend the anti sexual harassment law by introducing sexual harassment among peers and those committed to a superior over his subordinate, such as a teacher to his student or a boss to his staff.

"We are bringing home the point that women rights are also human rights," Hontiveros said.