Clergyman's sex assault comments condemned

After a week of unease over different controversial comments made by a church leader, another has again caused an uproar with comments about women and sexual assault. 

Local women activists have come forward to condemn comments made by Catholic clergy, Father Muliau Stowers saying such teachings is a setback for Samoa's efforts against 'victim-blaming'.

Aired on the Catholic channel TV4 last week, Fr. Stowers stated it is natural for a man to be incited to forcibly demonstrate indecent acts on the opposite sex if they do not wear clothing that covers the full body.

It is a "natural response of the opposite sex", he said.

"There is sin, and then there is an occasion of sin," Fr Stowers started.

"For example, there is a man who has just gotten back from a day of work in the plantation, tired and making his way home.

"And he comes across a young girl whose muscles are close to popping out of what she is wearing. Naturally, the opposite sex is supposed to respond.

"If your body does not feel cold with goosebumps, you must be sick."

In Roman Catholic teaching, occasions of sin are "external circumstances" -whether of things or persons- incite or entice one to sin.

Fr. Stowers pointed out that in this instance, should an indecent act occur, firstly, the young girl was at the wrong place at the wrong time and secondly, the young girl was dressing inappropriately.

"The whole blame is put on the man, but why don't they question the other person who was also there?" he asked.

"Because it is the evening, she should be home already, secondly, if she had worn something appropriate, like a long loose dress (olomu'u), no feelings would have emerged."

This has garnered mixed emotions from the public. While some justify the beliefs of Fr. Stowers, others maintain that such comments are a step back for Samoa; a leading nation in the region for human rights movements.

Brown Girl Woke non-profit organisation founder and a victim of sexual violence, Maluseu Doris Tulifau said Fr. Stower's comments is the reason why there needs to be more programmes to educate Samoan men.

"Victim blaming is as old as Adam blaming Eve for tempting him. He just set Samoa decade back with the work against victim-blaming," she said in an interview with the Samoa Observer. 

"Most rape and sexual violence cases victims know the person and its high percentage of the time at the home. It’s rarely stranger and as a victim myself I know at [the] age of 5 years old my clothes didn’t seduce him.

"[Fr. Stowers] just help[ed] one of the biggest myths still be relevant today that "women become raped because of what they wear”, that comment alone has set us back from the progress here in Samoa with victims blaming themselves and not getting the help they need.

"For him to state it’s a natural reaction for men, is the reason why we need to make more programs to educate our men."

Similar sentiments were echoed by Young Women Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) spokesperson, Taimalelagi Ramona Tugaga who said such comments are hardly a surprise despite efforts to eradicate such mindsets.

"How we dress doesn't refuel rape acts, think of some of the Jews and nuns dressed up and get raped despite full-on clothing," she said.

Samoa has a long way to go still, said Taimalelagi.

Also during his teachings Fr. Stowers noted that the same revealing dress code can be seen in churches as he posed the question, "do you think reverends are angels?"

Fr. Stowers declined to comment on Sunday but said he might be open to a future in-person interview.


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