P.M. Tuilaepa laments “sad state of affairs”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has lamented the “sad state” of family violence in Samoa, calling on the nation to acknowledge the suffering it has caused “many generations past.”

Tuilaepa issued the rallying call at the T.A.T.T.E. Building yesterday where he launched the Report of the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence. The findings in the report are alarming. 

For instance, it shows that family violence affects “almost all families in Samoa,” with extremely high numbers of people experiencing extreme violence in their lifetime. 

The report found that 9 in 10 women consulted during the Inquiry said they had experienced physical or emotional violence in the hands of family members. Six out of 10 women experienced “intimate partner violence” in their lifetime. 

But that’s not all. 

The rates of family violence in Samoa are higher than the global average, according to the report. The Inquiry survey of 1,500 found 86 percent of respondents have experienced physical violence in a family setting, and nearly one in ten Samoan women have been raped by a family member in their lifetime.

A study by the Ministry of Women in 2017 found that only 11 percent of victims report their experiences of family violence. 

 “Now, the time for talking has to be over. After reading this Report, I hope and urge that we together take action to address this issue head on at last,” Tuilaepa said.

“As the leader of Samoa, I call upon everyone – our political leaders, traditional and religious leaders, fathers, and families to acknowledge the widespread pain and suffering in which we are all complicit. 

“Blame does not fall on the perpetrators alone. We all are party to a degree. Unknowingly, the seeds for this sad state of affairs have been sowing for many generations past. 

“Now, for the sake of the future, it is up to us and especially those in positions of power to stand up and be counted – to demonstrate our dedication to the fa’a-Samoa and Christian values upon which this country is founded. Enough is enough! It is time for us all to stand together for the sake of our future generations and say: I will not hide in the shadow of the tree.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa said the veil of silence hiding the realities of family violence is a menace to Samoans.

“It violates the core principles and values of faaaloalo, va taup’ia, and alofa among others, which are the essence of our Faasamoa and Faith.”

The relationship between the fa’asamoa and family violence is one explored in depth by the Inquiry, which found the fa’asamoa is simultaneously used to justify family violence and fails to protect people from violence.

“This situation needs to be reversed – the justification of family violence using Fa’asamoa eradicated and the protection mechanisms re-established. 

“Neither of these goals are easy nor will they happen overnight, but they are possible.”

Ombudsman and the Chairman of the Inquiry, Maiava Iulai Toma, said for Samoa to end the cycle of violence, everyone will need to undergo a process of self-education and self-discovery.

“I too am new to this, but I have come to realise we cannot continue to ignore inequalities,” he said.

“One of the key themes that emerged from testimonies is that family violence thrives because it is kept behind closed doors, where perpetrators are allowed to continue under no threat of having to face up to their responsibility. It is about time that we openly talk about these issues, front up and allow the right thing to be done.”

He further adds, the Government, the Village Fono, churches, parents, may see the findings and recommendations of the report as ceding authority, but this is not the case. In embracing the proposed societal, political and religious reforms, everybody in Samoa will further be empowered. 

Research towards the report began in December 2016, and has been a process of consultations, village meetings, data driven research written submissions and more.

The Inquiry focuses on identifying who is most vulnerable to family violence and why, goes on to explore the impact of family violence, and possible solutions going forward and was conducted  through a cultural and religious lens with an aim to find Samoan solutions to the problem of family violence.

Among many recommendations, the report suggests a centralised coordinated approach is needed to address such a multifaceted problem, with an Office for Family Violence under the Ministry for Women, Community and Social Development to link up existing programs and coordinate a future strategy towards making Samoa free of violence.

“The only solution is for a complete rejection of family violence and the key message of the Office of Family Violence Prevention should be one of zero tolerance,” the report states.

During the Inquiry, the Commissioners outlined the ways the Village Fono (Council) play a role in enabling family violence, and suggested they could actually do the opposite.

The report suggests a Violence Free Village Programme where the village council would develop zero tolerance policies and be rated by a scorecard for their compliance with prevention guidelines based on the inquiry. 

Compilation of the report was supported by UN Women, United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P.), Asia Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions (A.P.F.) and the Commonwealth Secretariat. 

“We thank our partners, without whom the Inquiry and Report would not have been made possible. Their support and technical assistance throughout this project further reaffirms their commitment to the protection of women, girls and children of Samoa from family violence and promotion of their human rights,” said Maiava .

In a statement, Loukinikini Vili, Director of Human Rights at the Office of the Ombudsman/N.H.R.I., said that throughout the Inquiry it became increasingly apparent that family violence in some form has become an accepted part of life in Samoa. 

“It is something which is inevitable, tolerated or simply goes unnoticed. This in itself is a significant barrier to both reporting family violence and contributes to an ever worsening cycle of violence at a societal level,” said Ms. Vili. 

 “The Inquiry therefore provided a platform to inquire into reasons why this is the case and also identify existing structures and institutions (e.g. church and Fono a Alii ma Faipule) with potential to contribute to identifying solutions and effective actions to curb family violence.”

The Report acknowledges greatly that changes to existing attitudes of our people and established practices will have to be made but in a society which values the collective above all else, this should be welcomed with open arms. 

During the National Inquiry, which was open to the public, testimonies from stakeholders and survivors of violence against women and girls were heard over a three-weeks. 

 “I want you to know that you are not broken, you are not worthless, and you are not to blame,” said a survivor of child abuse during her powerful testimony at the Inquiry. 

 “The Report’s findings amplify to the broader public many of the existing – and some new - challenges ahead for Samoa to reduce its levels of violence against women and girls,” said Ms. Vili. 

 “Family violence impacts so many women and their families in Samoa, so it is positive the Inquiry has contributed to making this a national public health issue calling upon each and every one us to take an active role to help end this violation of human rights.”

Copies of the National Inquiry into Family Violence Report are available at the Samoa Office of the Ombudsman/National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) and online [www.ombudsman.gov.ws]

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