Groundwork begins for Family violence Inquiry

The Commission for the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence has held its first briefing.

The Commission formed for the National Public Inquiry into family violence which begins next week has met for the first time to discuss matters in preparation for their hard task ahead. 

The Commissioners are the internal drivers of the inquiry. 

Their different individual expertise and experiences will contribute importantly to this task. The Commissioners were taken through the “do no harm” principle when engaging with survivors of family violence especially those that are still in a violent relationship. A fundamental principle which to be upheld throughout this inquiry is to ensure that no harm is caused to anyone who comes forward to share their stories.

The Commission acknowledges its role and responsibility to hear from individuals who have been affected but also from individuals and organisations who may have valuable input in regards to practical solutions to the ugly issue of Family Violence in Samoa.  According to the Inquiry Chairman Maiava Iulai Toma, “I recognize that attempts to obtain stories from survivors of family violence can be traumatizing and can even put them at greater risk in their homes or community.” 

“Therefore, it is imperative for the Commissioners to formulate questions and discussions sensitively. He further added “re-telling your lived experience particularly if it was a dark one can bring back memories that we only want to throw away but the importance of these stories can allow for someone else who is going through the same experience to realise that it’s not normal, it may even help save one life or help one man to reflect on their violent behaviour”.  

We all know very well that violence in Samoa is spiralling and becoming embedded as part of our daily lives. As evidenced in the recent Family Safety Study by the Ministry of Women Community and Social Development, prevalence rates of violence has increased to 60% from 40% since 2000. 

With the findings of this Inquiry and the mentioned Study, Samoa will have firm evidence on the status of violence in our families and on how critical it is for us to fully engage with this issue before it gets further out of control. 

About 1500 people participated in village consultations held in various parts of the country in the first stage of the National Inquiry; the majority of these participants living in rural villages. Focussed group discussions revealed something of a “disconnect” between a strong desire to change and seeming comfort with rationalization advanced for violence that is occurring.

While people are now well aware of the need to stop violence, understanding the root causes and the need to change embedded attitudes sustaining violence is emerging to be the major challenge.

It emerged in discussions also that women (regardless of age group) see themselves as part of the cause of family violence not only between themselves and their intimate partners but violence which happen to their female children. They see negligence on their part as contributing to a domino effect flow on from failure to perform their conjugal responsibilities including sexually satisfying their husbands. 

A parallel questionnaire supported the majority of the views expressed across all village consultations on the types of violence commonly experienced and witnessed in Samoan families.

In focus groups discussions, the majority of violence commonly discussed as experienced were physical, verbal and emotional violence. We hear “koekiki ou alu aku kalepe lou guku/kikiga lou ua/kipi oe le sapelu” some common examples of phrases that were thrown around which have become normal in our everyday life. These freely flung words and expressions fuel not only violent attitudes but violence itself. 

Commissioners will embark on the second phase of the inquiry next week with close and public dialogues around the country hopefully to further unpack findings from village consultations and to hear from knowledgeable individuals and those who volunteer to share their stories and experiences to assist with the overall goal of the inquiry.  

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