MANILA, Philippines - Seventeen-year-old "Jennylyn" never even had the chance to mourn the death of her mother because on the very night of the funeral, she was taken by her uncle and was raped repeatedly, in different places, for hours.
"When he asked me to take a ride with him, I didn't hesitate. He was a great guy. Even when I was young, he would give me money to buy food at school. He suddenly drove me to a dark seminary, and ordered me to take off my shorts."
This, Jennylin says, would start a wave of sexual abuse that she had to endure for the next four years.
"I never thought this would happen to me. I'm her niece. My siblings and I grew up with him."
Now 23 years old and living under the protection of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Jennylin says she endured the years of repeated abuse because her uncle threatened the lives of her siblings.
Now she regrets having waited this long, after learning that her other sisters and cousins were abused in the same way... and that one of her sisters now has a child by her uncle.
Lydia Rubio, officer-in-charge of the DSWD Haven for Women where Jennylin is staying, recounts the level of trauma Jennylin was in when she first came under their wing. "She would have this blank stare, and then cry endlessly. Then one time, she shattered a mirror and slashed her wrists with a glass shard. We had to call in specialists to help us deal with her."
Such is the gruesome story of incest, or sexual abuse suffered in the hands of a parent, blood relative or parent figures such as stepmothers and stepfathers. As unthinkable as it may sound, studies are showing that there has been a rise in incest cases in the Philippines for the last 2 decades.
In a study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, conducted jointly with the DSWD and the government of Japan, the DSWD published incidents of incest in the country from 1991 to 1997.
It shows a significant rise in the number of reported cases in just a matter of 6 years:
Incest cases in the Philippines
1991 - 45
1992 - 47
1993 - 151
1994 - 771
1995 - 617
1996 - 514
1997 - 967
SOURCE: Table 4.3 Reported number of child abuse cases in Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippines (1991-1997)
"SEXUALLY ABUSED AND SEXUALLY EXPLOITED CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN THE PHILIPPINES: An assessment of their health needs and available services; United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Government of Japan, Department of Social Welfare and Development The Philippines"
The trend is cemented further by data from the Child Protection Network, which shows that in the year 2009 alone, more than 1,500 incest cases have reached their knowledge.
Dr. Bernadette Madrid, executive director of the Child Protection Network, attributes this rise to the growing number of families forced to live with the mothers away from home, such as the millions of overseas Filipino workers' (OFW) families around the country.
"Once the mother is away, the situation becomes high risk," says Madrid. To date, there is no study that directly relates the upsurge of incest to the OFW phenomenon.
Madrid however, says that the connection is very likely.
Available data could very well be just the tip if the iceberg, says Madrid, because incest is a highly shameful occurence for any family, and not everyone is willing to admit that such a thing would be possible in their own home.
"But this is a reality," she says. "We all would want to think this could only be possible with other families, not ours. But incest is one thing that transcends all socioeconomic boundaries."
Sleeping in same room
Rubio of the Haven for Women however recalls a common factor with incest victims that come under their care. "It's a consideration sometimes, when families sleep in just one room, the parents and the children together. When a child's body begins to develop, he or she becomes vulnerable."
Jennylin has been with the Haven for Women for nearly five years, and has expressed her desire to move on and get a job outside of the shelter. But the desire comes with one condition.
"I'm not going back to my family. I'm gonna get a job elsewhere, gather my siblings, and finally take care of them like I promised my mother."
Jennylin also expressed no desire to reunite with her father, whom she and her siblings now accuse of having received money from their uncle, in exchange for the right to sexually abuse them. True or not, the father and daughter's bond has been severed for the rest of "Jennylin's" life.
Dr. Madrid explains this as a natural reaction to incest. "The impact on a victim is much, much greater for incest than with stranger rape. The betrayal of trust is immense. No one is supposed to love me better than my family... and yet they are the ones who did this? The child will never trust again."
To battle incest, child welfare advocates see the solution in two things: One, is to try and keep the family together; and two, is for people to remember the roles and responsibilites of each member of the family.
"Just because you feed them, just because they are your offspring or your grandchildren or nephews and nieces, doesn't mean they are your property," Rubio reiterates to those who may forget. "Nothing you provide them will ever give you the right to do with them as you please, and abuse them in any way."