The Philippines president made an astonishing admission this week. In a speech targeting the Catholic church's handling of sexual abuse cases, Rodrigo Duterte admitted to sexually assaulting a sleeping maid when he was a teenager, according to the BBC.
Duterte recounted confessing the sexual assault to a priest, according to multiple reports. He described sneaking into the unnamed domestic worker's room at night, lifting up her blanket, and trying to touching her under her underwear. He said he left the room when she woke up, but added that he later returned to try to assault her again.
Duterte's admission prompted outrage from women's rights groups, both in the Philippines and internationally. "Flaunting abusive practices encourages the rape culture and in this case, sexual abuse of domestic workers," The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific executive director Jean Enriquez told the BBC.
Some have even called for his resignation, arguing that the leader effectively admit to attempted rape, including GABRIELA, a Filipino organization that advocates for women's rights.
"It is deeply disturbing even for Duterte to brag about attempting to rape a maid when he was a minor…" the organization said in a statement posted to its Twitter account. "This latest confession has brought shame not only on himself but on the entire nation that trusted him to lead judiciously and righteously. He has proven himself unworthy of his position and should resign."
Duterte's spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, said in a statement provided to CNN Philippines that Duterte's story about sexually assaulting a family maid was a "laughable anecdote" which was intended to "dramatize the fact of sexual abuse that was inflicted on him and his fellow students when they were in high school."
"He purposely added and spliced the story with vulgarity to characterise the behavior of the priest who insisted to hear more sins during their confessions when there were none," Panelo said.
But some critics have said that Duterte's comments risk normalizing sexual assault directed domestic workers, many of whom are women. “Normalizing this despicable behavior is very dangerous for all domestic workers, here and abroad, and for all women, in general,” Josua Mata, secretary-general of Sentro, a labor rights group, told local news outlet Rappler.
Duterte has fielded accusations of sexism and misogyny many times in the past. Speaking about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary, which took place in Davao in 1989, when Duterte was mayor there, he jokingly said that he wished he had taken part in the violence.
“I was angry because she was raped," Duterte said, per The New York Times. "That’s one thing. But she was so beautiful. The mayor should have been first."
Duterte has long been a controversial leader, but given his history of divisiveness, it's unlikely that he will give up his position any time soon, despite the fact that some are calling for his resignation. He has only been in office since June of 2016, when he became the oldest person ever elected to be president of the Philippines.