Online Harassment: Dawn of Justice

Online Journalism: Dawn of Justice. Written by Tricia Zafra for SubSelfie.com.

Editor’s Note: This is the sequel to Tricia’s article:
The Best Defenses v Online Harassment

I was attentively observing in the mirror what the guy was doing behind me. My mind raced to recall self-defense moves from Mr. Miyagi and Mr. Han of Karate Kid movies as I remembered a number of rape cases that reportedly occurred in public restrooms. My mind’s ear could hear my own voice yelling in frustration: “Lumabas ka na diyan; ano pa ang ginagawa mo?!” (Get out of there; what are you still doing?). But I stood there facing the mirror wide-eyed, frozen.

Seconds ago, after using one of the cubicles, I headed to one of the sinks for an obligatory hand washing. To my surprise, a lousy skinny young man aged 18-22 entered the restroom as if I was invisible. He swiftly went from one cubicle to the next flushing the bowl of the second cubicle after a deep sigh of exasperation. I figured out that he is the sanitation maintenance guy. He went on until he had inspected all cubicles and turned to face the mirror, ignored me again and looked aimlessly at the sinks seemingly in search of something. Unable to take it anymore, I diverted my nervousness and raised my voice on him: “Allowed ka talagang pumasok kahit may babae pa rito?” (Are you really allowed to enter here even when a woman is inside?)

With much self-entitlement, he retorted: “Tinitingnan ko lang po.” (I’m just looking at it). Then he walked out.

I followed him outside and got him to face me: “Nasaan ang bisor mo?” (Where is your supervisor?)

Face now ashened, he motioned to the convenience store to his left, “Andiyan po.”

I was so angry I didn’t talk to his supervisor right away. I walked to a nearby fast food chain where my crew and I had earlier placed orders for a late night dinner after a 15-hour drive from Tuguegarao via the more passable roads of Ilocos region. I narrated the incident on Facebook. We were somewhere in Pangasinan. This happened in late March. We were on our way home after covering a campaign sortie.

After eating, I headed to the supervisor who had already learned of the incident from the young man himself. Apologizing on behalf of her staff, she assured me that the person has now been taught not to enter the female restroom when it is still being used and in unavoidable circumstances, he should at least say “excuse me” and acknowledge that there is someone there.

One netizen commented on my post and urged me to let the incident pass: “Pag pa sa diyos (sic) mo nalang. Paano kung may 4 na anak siyang pinapakain? Pagsabihan mo nalang…” (Leave it to the Lord. What if he has four children to feed? Just reprimand him.)

When I had decided to report to an authority, I knew very well that my intention was far from getting the person fired since nothing grievous happened. Unemployment and underemployment are gut-wrenching problems and I would not want another person to lose livelihood for a behavior that is reparable anyway.

The same thing was on my mind when I reported a scuba diving instructor to his certifying agency, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors or PADI, due to an inappropriate online behavior. In case you missed it, here is the back story.

All I wanted is the accordance of the same respect given to men. When we see half-naked men on the beach do we whistle on them? Do we ogle at their nipples? Do we laugh out so loud in groups so they realize that we are making fun of their huge beer bellies, rough zit-ridden uneven skin and hairy bodies? Do we visually search for their prostates? Why would wearing a swimsuit be a reason for us to be disrespected?

Again, as I emphasized in my previous entry on this matter, it is an obligation to stand our ground when we are disrespected so we can earn that much-deserved genuine acceptance. In fairness to business, social or government organizations, respect for others is sanctioned in their manuals. There are some who would deviate and when we become victims of such deviations, we should let the authorities know.

“Conduct Yourself… in a Professional Manner” – PADI

In its letter dated April 07, PADI Asia Pacific Quality and Risk Management Office apologized for how the diving instructor interacted to me online. I was also informed that an inquiry had been launched to take up my complaint. The response, however, looked like a crisis management template letter. Not good enough for me, I responded on April 12 and asked for specifics:

“Now that your organization has ‘initiated an inquiry,’ I would like to know what the process of this inquiry is, how long does this take and what my participation will be. I wouldn’t mind PADI revealing my identity to the member being investigated since I can face anyone anywhere at any given time and stand by my complaint. Though I have been informed that you handle such procedures discreetly, may I be constantly updated of developments and progress in the inquiry and ultimately, its conclusion? I would like to be assured of your sincerity that there are warm bodies handling this issue and that I am not being merely appeased with crisis management template letters.”

After three follow up emails dated April 24, April 30 and May 10, I received an e-mail dated May 11 asking for my comment on the explanation provided by the diving instructor behind his intrusive comment:

Hi Tricia,

Here is ****’s response.

“My comment was intended for her photo but on a picture of a CPR looking sign in her Facebook album at that time that’s why I had the guts to playfully post my comment and it had been misconstrued to targeting her swimsuit photos. I even tried to contact her using different avenues to explain and apologize for any offence that my comment had incurred but did not receive any reply.

I understand my mistake and will avoid future instances of the same sort.”

Your thoughts?

Richard Evans

Wondering what that CPR-looking photo is? A woman claiming to be a “good friend” of the diving instructor sent this to me over Facebook sometime in March:

“The diving community is small and as soon as I heard about the issue, I immediately messaged him. It was a long exchange but to cut it short, he told me that the comment was not intended for the specific photo indicated in your blog post (swimming in swimsuit shot). Instead, he was commenting on a photo of a signage that might have been part of your album or maybe a previous post. He even illustrated it to me actually (see attached).”

The lousy explanation.
The lousy explanation.

There is no problem with forgiving an erring individual but that should never be tantamount to the elimination of one’s resolve in obtaining personal and social justice.

I also suddenly remembered a news story sometime in summer about a cabbie who masturbated while driving for a 17-year old female passenger seated in the front with her classmates seated at the back. When caught and confronted by the authorities, the driver claimed he has urinary tract infection and needed to pee. Indeed, when compelled to explain, these perverts come up with outrageously creative alibis.

In case it also interests you how the diving instructor tried to get in touch “using different avenues to explain and apologize,” here is his Facebook message sent to me on March 25:

"A meer blurt."
“A meer blurt.”

I told PADI in my reply dated May 11 that the CPR-looking photo is a “sick alibi.” There has not been any photo of the sort in my Facebook profile’s history and that my photos in that particular post are stand-alone and not part of an album. The continuity of the comment thread would also show that his comment “free mammary exam” had been there for an hour already before I deleted it and a lot of my friends had seen it. So was it an innocent mistake? I don’t think so.

That’s why in its response dated May 12, PADI acknowledged that the remark made by its member is “unprofessional and inconsiderate:”

“As we are a diver training agency, our ability to act against a member is clearly defined in the PADI Instructor Manual. The only applicable standard to use under these circumstances is the requirement to act professionally and is contained on page 14, Commitment to Excellence, Membership Commitment, Code of Practice, item 8, which states:

8. Conduct yourself and your PADI related activities in a professional manner.

As you know, we have expressed our concerns with Mr ****** on this matter. We will also make this correspondence a part of his professional file to ensure that if any further conduct on his part that occurs while conducting PADI related activities, this matter will become a part of that investigation.”

“The Best Apology Is Changed Behavior” – Anonymous

According to psychologist Dr. James Mazur in his book Learning and Behavior, “long-term changes in an individual’s behavior” are the ultimate “products of learning.” In learning, reinforcements or stimuli are integral as demonstrated in studies on operant conditioning aimed at increasing or decreasing voluntary behavior.

One take-away I got from this online harassment experience is that there’s another accessible avenue to address grievances when violated apart from law enforcers, non-government organizations, community blogs and the social media. These are the entities the offending persons work for. We can look at professionalism mandated by these organizations no matter how informal or small, as reinforcements to encourage the assertion of our right to be treated with respect whether we are clients or not. The idea of losing one’s livelihood as a consequence of disrespecting women is hurtful in the same way as potential loss of patrons due to reputation of cradling sexist employees or members can be an urgent concern.

As PADI pointed out in one of its e-mails:

“Mr. ****** was reminded of our PADI requirements to act professionally while involved in PADI related activities, and that unprofessional conduct not related to PADI activities will also reflect negatively on him and PADI.”

Had PADI not acted on my complaint, I would call on my diver-friends to boycott its annual Women’s Dive Day set for July. For a society so stubborn at unlearning its feudal-patriarchal systems, tearing down the reinforcers of violence against women to sub-atomic pieces is warranted every time there is an opportunity.

Calling the attention of an individual to explain an unprofessional and deviant behavior and getting a negative permanent professional record are unpleasant stimuli that any human of sound mind would try to avoid at all times. These are called “punishments” that follow undesirable behaviors with the aim of extinguishing them.

From a neuropsychological perspective, Dr. Danilo Tuazon says such situation is unpleasant because it triggers a type of stress hormone called cortisol: “the higher cortisol any strategy can generate, the more effective it is in warning the brain that the behavior previously emitted needs to be controlled”.

Whether the person is sincere in his apology remains to be seen. I hope he avoids this situation for the rest of his life so women who would tap him in the future to learn scuba diving will always be safe. We all know where repeated documented offenses lead to and this is precisely the reason women should be encouraged to file complaints whenever and wherever they are disrespected.

“I Raise Up My Voice – Not So I Can Shout But So that Those without a Voice Can Be Heard.” ―Malala Yousafzai

Looking back, I ask myself: What if I had not been educated enough to communicate via e-mail to caucasians? Asked what it thought about how my complaint was handled, women’s advocacy group Gabriela has agreed with me that PADI’s response is satisfactory.

“The response of the organization is ok, your complaint was discussed by a committee and the rules and regulations were even reviewed… This means that the organization took your complaint seriously,” said Gert Ranjo Libang, Vice Chair of Gabriela.

On second thought, would I be taken seriously had I given up after a few unanswered e-mails because the office was closed or the person concerned was out of office? What if I did not hold knowledge of Journalism and Psychology?

I do not want to know anymore.

As I was discussing this essay with my boyfriend and how my education has protected me, he tells me of a perverse joke he had encountered sometime in college to illustrate how lack of access to education increases women’s vulnerability and exposure to abuse. It goes like this:

A girl went to Manila to look for her missing parents. Clueless where to begin, she was led to a radio station. The male radio anchor joyfully entertains her and was even willing to give her the “mic” to call on anyone who can help her find her mother and father. The radio anchor then unzips his pants, takes out his penis and tells the poor girl: “you may now make your announcement here.”

In 2008, the National Statistics Office (now the Philippine Statistics Authority) conducted a survey on spousal violence against women aged 15-49, covering physical, sexual, emotional and economic forms of abuse. The study revealed that incidence of physical violence is lowest among women who have had obtained college education and who are wealthy.

Source: Philippine Commission on Women.
Source: Philippine Commission on Women.
Source: Philippine Commission on Women.
Source: Philippine Commission on Women.

Gabriela explains that “education could give women more confidence to communicate how they feel about an embarassing, harassing incident. Access to communication channels will raise their awareness and having a livelihood will give them independence to decide on their action.”

We are far from having equal opportunities to ensure all-encompassing protection and defense from abuse and violence for all. Be assured, however, that you are not alone. We can share our knowledge, resources and success stories of justice, through advocacy groups and social organizations. In times of violence and abuse, we should be there for one another just as how real sisters would stick together.

[Entry 144, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Tricia Zafra

Tricia Zafra is a correspondent and anchor working for GMA News. She graduated from UP Diliman with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Communication, cum laude, and is currently taking up graduate studies in the Department of Psychology in the same university (on leave). She is a vegetarian, painter, and a certified open water scuba diver. Read more of her articles here.

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