Fine Lines and Safe Spaces, Edition 1

Fine Lines and Safe Spaces, Edition 1

In this day and age, society has increasingly been made aware of cases of sexual violence. In light of the #MeToo movement, where victims of sexual harassment and abuse came forward about their experiences, the floor has been opened to constructive discourse about the long-standing history of sexual violence of both men and women.

With terms like “sexual assault” and “rape” being thrown around, it seems like not many are fully aware of the extent these terms pertain to. What differentiates harassment from assault? When is an act considered rape?

The first step to being able to contribute to the ongoing discussion is by first better understanding each term and by using them precisely. Here’s a simplified guide of what differentiates one act from another:

Sexual violence

  • Sexual violence is commonly used as the umbrella term encompassing most acts in this list, such as assault and harassment, although legal definitions may vary from country to country.
  • In the Philippine constitution, Republic Act 9262 states that sexual violence is an act which is “sexual in nature” and includes, but is not limited to: rape, acts of lasciviousness, treating someone as a sex object, making demeaning and sexually suggestive remarks, forcing her/him to watch obscene publications and indecent shows, and the like.
  • It also includes acts causing or attempting to cause the victim to engage in any sexual activity by force or coercion. Prostitution and trafficking are acts of sexual violence.

Sexual abuse

  • Sexual abuse is used when referring to the mistreatment of children, although it has been used interchangeably with sexual violence. It is more precisely used to describe the exploitation of minors.
  • As stated by Republic Act 7610, the age of consent (which is the minimum age an individual is old enough to consent to sex) of the Philippines is a meager 12 years old, one of the lowest in Southeast Asia. This differs from the statutory rape law, which criminalizes sex with an individual under 18 years old involving force, or intimidation.
  • Just this August 2019, Tingog Partylist Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez, chairperson of the House committee on the welfare of children, filed for House Bill (HB) 4160, which raises the age of consent from 12 to 16 years old.
  • Sexual abuse, similar to sexual violence, can come in many forms: from inappropriate touching, to actual sexual activity.
  • Consent is a major player in both sexual abuse and violence, often the clincher in court, that dictates if the act was indeed a crime. As children are unable to make informed decisions for themselves, there is an unlawful and improper use of power and influence when a child is sexually abused.

Sexual assault

  • Differentiating sexual assault from rape might be confusing for some, but there are intricacies that distinguish them.
  • Sexual assault ranges from a variety of acts that are sexual in nature, such as groping, unwanted touching, kissing, or anything that forces the victim to be physically sexual with the perpetrator.
  • Rape, then, falls under an act of sexual assault, as it is physical in nature – but not all cases of sexual assault are rape.


  • Republic Act 8353, or the ‘Anti-Rape’ Law dictates that an act is considered rape if it is done in the following cases:
1. By a man who shall have carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the following circumstances:
      • Through force, threat, or intimidation;
      • When the offended party is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious;
      • By means of fraudulent machination or grave abuse of authority; and
      • When the offended party is under twelve (12) years of age or is demented, even though none of the circumstances mentioned above be present.
    2. By any person who, under any of the circumstances mentioned in paragraph 1 hereof, shall commit an act of sexual assault by inserting his penis into another person's mouth or anal orifice, or any instrument or object, into the genital or anal orifice of another person.

    • In short, what makes rape different from an act of sexual assault is the matter of penetration.
    • Rape, then, is a rather specific form of sexual assault. While today, rape is often attributed to the breach of consent, it is explicit in the law that an act of penetration must occur, although it is also a given that there was a lack of consent that transpired.
    • Rape may occur due to the victim being drunk, unconscious, asleep, incapacitated, or due to being threatened using physical force or a weapon. In all these scenarios, there is a lack of consent.
    • One may notice that the law is written in a way that it implies only men are capable of rape, but the rape of males is also legally recognized as rape by sexual assault.

    Sexual harassment

    • Sexual harassment details impermissible, unwanted, or unwelcome sexual behavior. It covers a broad array of sexual misacts, which may be either verbal or physical.
    • Harassment may take place in any environment, whether at home or in public. A popular example would be catcalling, or making inappropriate comments, which makes the victim uncomfortable.
    • Another example would be a person of authority who demands for sexual favors or makes innuendos.
    • This displays a play of power where the victim is made helpless due to structure or authority.
    • This is also called “quid pro quo harassment”. Any scenario where a victim is in an environment made hostile by the perpetrator can fall under sexual harassment.
    • Unwanted sexual attention can also include sexual assault and even rape. If an employer were to kiss an employee without their consent, this is can fall under both harassment and assault.
    • Gender harassment may also fall under this, even though there is no explicit sexual advance made.
      • This includes using crude or demoralizing images and words, making degrading comments about the anatomy, or even sexist remarks. These still fall under sexual harassment, as they are sex-based, although not necessarily sexual in nature.


    Arming yourself with the knowledge of your basic rights is the first step to protecting yourself. Educating yourself and others about these issues paves the way for a brighter (and safer) future for everyone. Part of that education, aside from knowing your rights, is jumping into concrete action in times of need. Do not be afraid to ask for help – especially if you need it. Listed here are help hotlines for emergencies:

    • DOH Hospital’s Women and Children Protection Unit – Tel. No. 651-7800 locs. 1726 to 1730
    • Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) – Tel Nos. 733-0014 to 18 local 116 or 488-2861
    • Women’s Crisis Center – Cell No. 0928-420-0859
    • UP-PGH Women’s Desk – Tel Nos. 524-2990 or 567-3394 loc. 3072
    • Philippine National Police – Tel No. 410-3213
    • Emergency Hotline - 911
    • Aleng Pulis Text Hotline – 0919-777-7377


    Now, more than ever, there is the need to be aware and vigilant – and yet, still hopeful that we may one day see a society free from these injustices. With all these in mind, we can move towards fighting the good fight.

    Contributed by Luisa Jocson
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