Earlier this week, a young writer in the Philippines, bared her soul in a social media post, about an act of violence against her at a national writers workshop.
I’m tired and I’m sad and I’m stressed. I’ve recently found myself in the middle of some controversy in the Philippine writing community. Not once have I ever expected that I would ever find myself in this kind of predicament.
To get to the heart of the matter: I was sexually taken advantage of by a panelist during a national writers workshop that I had attended this year.
I called and wrote to the workshop director about the incident. I also had my lawyer send a letter along with the affidavits of my witnesses to the workshop to ask for justice. I wanted the workshop to acknowledge what had happened and to condemn what this panelist had done to me. I wanted the organization to blacklist this panelist so that he could no longer do the same thing to others in future iterations of the workshop.
However, the workshop director sent my lawyer a letter dismissing my request. According to the director, this was simply an issue between me and my assaulter because “it was done behind closed doors and nobody heard anyone screaming, being dragged down the stairs, or trashing about.”
According to the director, blacklisting my assaulter was impossible because the request “is already beyond the mandate of both its implementing organizations.”
This document is a redacted version of the initial incident report that I sent to the workshop director recalling what I remember and what I managed to find out after a thorough investigation of what happened.
I’ll start with what I remember. We were celebrating the closing ceremony of the national writer’s workshop late at night on Friday, May 31, 2019 before everyone was going to leave for home. A number of the writing fellows, senior fellows and members of the panel of the workshop were all drinking, singing and having a good time in the secretariat’s room in the university hostel.
I remember that I was starting to get tired, so I decided to sit down next to the workshop secretariat on his mattress inside the room.
The secretariat was there talking with my co-fellow, M. I sit down next to the two. That’s the last thing I remember because I black out.
The next thing I know, I’m downstairs outside the doorway of my room. Someone’s kissing me – it’s the workshop’s keynote speaker and panelist (KS). We enter the room. I black out again, but vaguely remember a few of the sexual things that happen (like my mouth being on KS’ person, his skin fully bared). When I wake up, it’s 6 in the morning, and I am naked and alone in my room. The first thought that comes to my head is whether what I remember was real. Everything seemed so hazy.
I go outside, look for someone, and see my roommate H. I ask her about whether anything happened to me. She says she doesn’t remember much about what happened that night. In the hallway, I see M. I ask him whether something had happened to me that night. M says yes. In my head, I could only wonder “How did this happen? Why did this happen?” I didn’t ever want it to happen.
I know that some might counter back and remind me that I had declared to my workshop co-fellows that KS had been my crush during the workshop. Yes, I always admired KS for his contribution to the writing community and for his skill as a writer. But that never meant that I wanted to have sex with him. Or to do anything sexual with him. Crushing on someone doesn’t mean consent. I don’t ever remember giving consent.
Besides, all my conversations with KS during the workshop were sparse and were mainly about geek topics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and boardgaming. There was barely anything sexual about our discussions with KS. The incident came as a major shock. I was heartbroken but I had to leave before I could properly process my feelings. I had a plane to catch back to my home in Cebu. I couldn’t sit with ease on the bus ride heading to the airport. How could this have happened? What was I supposed to tell my boyfriend? I wanted to come back home safe. I wanted to come back home proud of myself. But now, I had such a heavy burden to bear.
Because the details were so fuzzy ( I blacked out thrice that night. The incident was so hazy that when I woke up, I thought it was just a dream), I had to investigate the incident. In the days that followed, I asked senior fellow Maam D and my co-fellow M what they remembered – the most reliable source of information since they were the only two people who were sober that night.
M remembers me sitting next to the secretariat on his mattress. According to M, I had taken a nap for a while, but then woke up and went back to dancing with everyone. Maam D says that KS and I were dancing with each other while everyone else was busy dancing in the center of the room as well. We disappeared while everyone was still celebrating. Maam D remembers waiting for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way when she notices that we had gone from the room. There’s a black period after that. According to Maam D, my shoes were spotted by some of the fellows outside KS’ room. I have no idea what happened there. All I can remember is what happened inside my room. Meanwhile, during this black moment in KS’ room, M says that another co-fellow was in the secretariats room puking, forcing everyone to leave. Noticing that I was no longer with everyone, M decides to head downstairs to my room to check up on me. After all, we were friends.
However, when M enters my room, I am nowhere to be found. (Whatever happened in KS’ room, must have taken a while). M only finds H, my roommate who drunkenly keeps going on and on about the NDMMRC. Soon after, he says that KS and I have arrived by the doorway. According to M, KS and I are already kissing. He didn’t catch who initiated it but we’re kissing, and we walk into the room.
KS sits down on my bed, and according to M, I get on top of the panelist, and take off my clothes. I don’t remember this – I was very inebriated that night. His clothes are taken off too. Then according to M, I drunkenly ask him to “Friend, please....”
I don’t understand what this is supposed to mean, but M takes it as a signal to leave, and so he takes H and leaves, locking the room behind us. ________________________________________________________________
This narrative has left me with so many questions. How could this have happened? Who started it? Was it me? I doubt it – I never imagined being in any sort of sexual relations with KS. Also if I had started it, shouldn’t have KS, a panelist almost twice my age, have turned me away? He has a girlfriend. I have a boyfriend. He knows it’s wrong. He’s a panelist. He shouldn’t be fraternizing with fellows in the first place.
I don’t remember giving him my consent. Not once during the night.
What’s more, intoxicated individuals CANNOT give consent.That’s in the law. A writer of his stature should have known that.
Why did KS take me downstairs from the secretariat’s room? If he was just trying to be gentlemanly, why didn’t he ask someone else, someone I trusted, to take me to my room? Why didn’t he take someone else with him to make sure that he’d be rid of any blame when taking me downstairs?
Also, another serious point of contention was that of my shoes found outside his room. Not only were my co-fellows able to see my shoes outside his room, but I also found them there when I woke up after the incident. How long were we in his room? What were we doing there?
More importantly, why did he take me to his room before taking me to my own?
I don’t think I would be the one to take KS to his room, that’s ridiculous. Did I say no to him in his room, so he took me to mine instead? Or did he figure that he’d have to leave at 3 AM so he’d rather do it in my room so he wouldn’t have to leave me in his? There’s also the question of just how drunk KS was that night. Another co-fellow, G says that KS seemed drunk that night. But the timeline shows that he couldn’t be fully inebriated to not know what he was doing.
According to Maam D, KS and I disappeared sometime past 12.The puking incident in the room happened past 1, let’s say 1:15 to 1:30. M comes down around that time, and the incident where I’m with KS in my room happens around then. So, if everything happened between 12 midnight to 2, how in the world could KS make his 3 AM trip so quickly if he was just as drunk as everyone else was? How could someone who claimed to be excessively drunk, sober up in an hour? G, my co-fellow, had the same flight schedule as KS. According to G, KS seemed sobered up for his 3 am flight. In fact, it was KS who woke G up for their 3 am trip to the airport. KS even posted on Facebook at around 5:59 in the morning. How in the world can an extremely inebriated individual write coherent sentences and post on Facebook? How could he have made that trip so quickly? Scientifically speaking, it’s harder for large men to metabolize alcohol. My boyfriend is about KS’ height and size, he doesn’t get drunk at all. I have other friends who are also his height and size, same thing. According to this article on BBC, women get drunk more easily because size and fat content makes it harder for alcohol intoxication. (link here: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180618-why-alcohol-affects-women-more-...)
It seems very unlikely that KS was too drunk to not know what he was doing.
________________________________________________________________ I reached out to KS twice. The first time, it was Saturday night, June 1, the day after the incident. I was still in denial. I was feeling terrible, and reached out to him hoping to know more about what happened. I asked him about what happened, and then said that if and if I was the one who started things, then I was sorry. I didn’t know any better then, because I was in a state of shock and denial. He immediately jumped on that, and made it seem like it was my fault.
“You didn’t mean any harm.”
This first conversation ended on a good note, but throughout the day I was still bothered by what happened. I’d been digging around, asking my co-fellows what happened that night. I wanted to know the truth. I messaged KS again, telling him that I was still lost and confused, and I wanted his help to piece everything together. He told me that he barely remembers anything because he was just as drunk that night too - a lie considering the timeline of the incident, his flight schedule, and the testimony of my co-fellow G who had the same returning trip as KS did.
KS says that he can’t remember much except that he was on my bed with his clothes on – another lie knowing that M saw him without his clothes before M left the room. The sexual act I remember in my hazy recollection of the incident also didn’t have him with clothes on either. I lamented about the incident during the second conversation with KS, saying that I never wanted it to happen. I consider myself sexually liberated but I’m also very committed to my boyfriend. I don’t ever remember giving KS consent either; how could I give consent, I was inebriated that night.
I asked KS what he was going to do about the situation. “Honestly, I’m going to move on with my life. I suggest that you do too.”
I was taken aback by his response. Shouldn’t he be more concerned about the incident? Shouldn’t he be apologetic at least? He’s a much older panelist who should know better than to fraternize with a writer a little beyond half his age.
It’s taken me a while to come out with this story because honestly, this incident has brought me nothing but anguish and heartache. Instead of coming home marinating in the warmth of the camaraderie that comes with every writer’s workshop, I came home with so much burden. The past few months were spent trying to investigate what had really happened and then to see what kind of action I could take. The incident also put my relationship at stake – I am only lucky that my boyfriend understood what I was going through. He has been standing by me, through thick and thin, in every consultation visit to lawyer friends who were willing to help me.
The workshop director’s dismissive response to my plea to acknowledge and condemn KS has also brought me so much pain. Where was feminist solidarity when you needed it? I would have found the closure I needed had the workshop director simply acknowledged what had happened and called out KS - but instead I was left out to dry.
I understand that this fight isn’t going to be easy. Some have already told me heartbreaking things like “maybe you wanted it.” I’m waiting for others to come up and tell me even worse things too.
But no matter what others say, I will continue making my stand. If the workshop will not give me justice, I’ll try to find my own. I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep telling my story.
It’s time to make a change. It’s time to put an end to this culture of abuse.