"I felt like I was going to die", Samoan woman opens up about abuse in the hope to help others

Grace Finau had been with her boyfriend for a year when he proposed. 

In love and over the moon, she moved from Melbourne, Australia, to Samoa to live with him while they planned the wedding, and prepared for their life together. But it was not long before a small but steady stream of abuse began, she alleged. 

“It started with me doing something wrong and getting a hit, a small punch to the arm, a slap on the mouth or the back of the head, every now and then,” Ms. Finau told the Samoa Observer during an interview. 

Then at 3am one morning, she said she was woken up to unlock the door and let in her drunk, stumbling fiancé, only to find herself on the floor being kicked and punched for taking too long to open the house.

This is the alleged beating that was finally enough for Ms. Finau to end the relationship. This is also the the beating she shares in a tell-all Facebook post. In doing so, she is hoping to show everyone what happened behind the closed doors of her relationship and that there is support for women who need to get out of abusive homes.

“Imagine the man of your dreams, the love of your life, the man you gave everything up for to be by his side.... standing over you piercing your body with punches and kicking you to the point where you are now numb!” she wrote on Facebook.

Ms. Finau identified her ex-fiance as Tafulu Isaako. 

Since last week, the Samoa Observer has attempted to trace him to seek his side of the story. The attempts, including contacting a rugby club he played for in Samoa, were unsuccessful. The Samoa Observer was told he is in Australia. 

In the days that followed Ms. Finau’s testimony, it was seen by nearly 10,000 people, and shared over 3,000 times. 1,600 people commented, sharing support and thanking her for speaking out.

Her extended family, siblings and parents have shared the post, including her mother who wrote: “I am so proud of my daughter Grace Sarah for her courage and being strong to tell her story.”

Ms. Finau attached a photo of herself and her ex-fiancé to the post, the picture of happiness with a bright yellow flower tucked behind her long black hair. She said she posted the photo to show all is not as it seems, and that seemingly happy couples may still have their issues. 

Later, Ms. Finau thought about taking it down because it identifies him until other women messaged her with their own horror stories facing his anger.

“I just really hope men and women out there read my story, and think about their situation and know there is a better situation out there than what you are in, you have got to make that first step. There is support out there.”

Between the alleged beating, kicking her ex-fiance out of their home and sharing her experience were long drawn out months of anxiety. Ms. Finau said she constantly doubted whether she was justified in ending the relationship, questioned whether she actually deserved the beating, and asked herself what would have happened had she “gotten up and opened that door faster.”

She did not leave Samoa immediately to return home to Melbourne, full of fear that friends and family would judge her for the abuse, for the failures of the man she put on a pedestal, for coming home so soon after moving to Samoa.

It is this exact issue she hopes to expose with her public story. 

“Everyone knew about him, I was in love, and everyone knew I was going to Samoa to this man I loved. So only a few months later, to come back, without a ring, I wasn’t ready to face it.

“But it was the complete opposite when I got home,” she said. “Some of my best friends said to me they couldn’t believe I thought they would judge me over something like this.

“At the time, when it happened, when we were together, he made me feel like my family didn’t care about me, and my friends are not my friends.”

Isolating a friend or partner in order to facilitate abusing them is a widely researched part of domestic violence. Psychologists describe the cycle of isolation and abuse as a tactic used to weaken their partner.

Ms. Finau said many of her other friends being abused by their partners are scared of the same thing – being judged or hassled by their families, that they have pushed away with their partners guidance.

So when she finally decided break her silence, she hoped it would prove to others that they have push to through and talk about their situation, like one of her best friends currently in an abusive relationship.

“We have the same circle of friends who don’t even know she is going through this, and they are the ones jumping on [the post] with messages of love, her family is on that post with heartfelt message explaining how much they will be there for me. I said to her, you can have this support.”

Ms. Finau’s 3am beating was the second time her ex-fiancé had laid his hands on her that badly. Afterwards, she had tried to tell him it was not acceptable, but the message was not getting through.

As she tells it, while she bore the full force of his drunken rage, being called a whore and a slut, Ms. Finau was praying for her mother to have the strength to bury her child, and her siblings the strength “not to revenge my death.”

“I remember how I felt that night, I felt like I was going to die, and that scared the shit out of me,” she said.

“I remember giving up, I stopped fighting, I lower my hands and looked right in the eyes of my so called ‘love’ as he continued with the punches to my stomach, my thighs, my legs, my arms.”

She said its time women, and especially Samoan women, stopped thinking their situations are normal, or that their partner beating them is normal, like many of her friends and family feel.

Women tell her their husbands have been beating them on and off for 20 years, and carry on in public like nothing is happening.

She’ll ask them, “have you ever thought of leaving?” And the answer is usually no, and that it was their fault for getting a beating anyway.

“I get it, love is blind, but that feeling that I felt that second time, I didn’t want that ever again… It’s sad knowing people are out there suffering for so long, mentally and physically.”

Her Facebook post has inspired others to do the same, including a friend of Ms. Finau's who wrote in her Facebook testimony: "since moving back to my parents, they have NEVER ONCE JUDGED ME and had my back." She also shared a photo of her, happy with her ex-partner by her side. 

"Everyday was hell for me," she wrote." I wasn’t sleeping for 2-3 days straight and I would just stay up and smoke and sometimes drown myself with alcohol. Locked myself in my room and I was hardly eating at all. But after all that I never stopped smiling and showing my family especially my friends that I was fine. I never wanted them to worry about me."

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