Victims of sexual assault blameless: Ombudsman
Victims of sexual assault should not be blamed for the acts of perpetrators, the Ombudsman and head of the National Human Rights Institution, Maiava Iulai Toma, says.
The Ombudsman was responding to recent comments by senior Catholic clergyman Father Muliau Stowers, who claimed in a televised religious program that the opposite sex if they are at the wrong place at the wrong time and wore provocative clothing.
But Father Stowers soon apologised for causing any offence, while maintaining his broader point that there is a valid reason not to overlook the "occasion of sin", not just condemning the sin and sinner.
But Maiava said the responsibility for the crime of sexual assault cannot and should not be placed with the victim.
"It needs to be made quite clear that responsibility for these hideous acts lies with the perpetrators and should never be palmed off onto the victims of the crimes," he said in response to questions from the Samoa Observer.
"No woman or child wants to be sexually abused and the psychological and physical impact can be devastating and lifelong. For the most part, there is self-blame, shame, and guilt.
"There must be no ambiguity on this point in society’s attitude towards these vile activities if we are to make headway in battling the unprecedented upsurge we are witnessing in their occurrence around us."
Maiava emphasised that shifting the blame to the victim understates the abuser's actions and questioned whether such statements would send a negative message.
"We need to ask what it is that we are thereby teaching our children and our boys in particular. Are we teaching them that wearing revealing clothes is an invitation to rape? Are we teaching them that women who out late deserve to be raped?"
Last week Fr. Stowers said that his message was more so to encourage women to have more self-respect, starting with how they presented themselves.
"If you don't have the respect for yourself, then you don't have the respect of others for you," he said.
However, the Ombudsman maintained that dressing a certain way, being out late or drinking alcohol did not mean that a woman wanted to be assaulted and called that train of thought “a myth”.
He said that another myth surrounding sexual violence is the perception that most sexual assault is committed by a stranger.
"The Priest was obviously intent on giving clear advice to women in his class on modes of dress he considered appropriate. He talked expansively on this theme with regard to other situations outside of the particular narrative spelt out above. He criticises what he sees women wearing to church," Maiava added.
"Sexual violence is a problem that is close to us all in Samoa. It is widespread and clearly not a matter simply of victims being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are being victimised in the very places where they are supposed to be safely in.”