Culture, Christianity key to combating domestic violence: advocate

Samoa’s culture and Christian beliefs are contributing factors to domestic violence but they can also be the strongest solutions to the social problem, says family violence prevention advocate Tuiloma Sina Retzlaff. 

Tuiloma serves as a consultant for the Family Safety Committee pilot project being carried out by the National Human Rights Institute (N.H.R.I.) and is also the Editor of Samoa Global News online news website.

Tuiloma, who holds two matai titles (Lemalu being her other title) worked with the village committees of Vaiee, Lalovi-Mulifanua and Lotopue to author their three-year work plans.

“Our culture and our Christian beliefs are absolutely contributing factors to this. However, they can also be the strongest solutions to this. So we as a nation need to learn to turn that around – to turn around our culture and turn around our Christian belief to be the solution,” Tuiloma said during an interview with the media.

“Instead of what is happening now. It is being used by perpetrators too, some perpetrators and some people as an excuse for their bad behavior.”

Culture and Christianity are contributing factors because that is who we are, she explained.

Family violence is a behavioral issue, a social issue, said Tuiloma.

 “This is a social issue in terms of behaviours, our mindsets, our beliefs and Christianity and culture is who we are. Instilled in us is culture and instilled in us are Christian beliefs. So if we can turn those around into a positive to be a solution for this,” she said.

“I’m saying they are the two key contributing factors, however, I am saying if we could turn it around they would also be the two areas that would be the solution for Samoa.”

She drew upon The Holy Bible as an example of how Christianity can be used to perpetuate violence against women, specifically verses 22 and 25 in Chapter 5 of The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians.

“We need to focus on the Christianity teaching love and do unto others as you would like them to do unto you however what we are seeing in this space, in the domestic violence environment is the quoting of Ephesians, for example,” Tuiloma said.

“Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says: ‘Women, you must submit to your husband’ – so we focus on that and we forget to say that immediately after that verse it says husbands you must love your wives [even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it.

"That is what I mean by we are using Christianity as an excuse rather than looking at the whole of Christianity which is a beautiful solution to the problem.”

Incidents of family violence are inundating the courts, she noted.

“We see our courts inundated, every week, every week as you all know. Sometimes we don’t know whether to report or not because there are four or five in one week. If someone landed in Samoa and read our reports they’d think that is all that is going on in this country,” Tuiloma said.

The increase in violence prevention awareness has brought more people forward but she said real support must be displayed in the allocation of funds.

Samoa must be ready to respond to the people who do come forward.

“The stage where we are at as a country, as a nation – is that we are ready to respond. At the moment there is only the Samoa Victims Samoa Support Group (S.V.S.G.) that houses young victims,” she said.

Samoa must seriously prioritise the issue, Tuiloma said.

“And by seriously prioritising this as a nation we would need to allocate a budget to it…we do not see it in the budget allocations of our funds as a country,” said Tuiloma.

Legislation has improved in the protection of women and girls, she said.

The mother who turns a blind eye to the abuse of her children can be prosecuted.

“Legislation has improved over the years and people are using it more however it may be time for revision of those legislations,” Tuiloma said.

In line with her suggestion that Samoa’s Christian beliefs can solve the widespread D.V. problem, pastors are among the people who can apply for Protection Orders on behalf of D.V. victims.

Pastors, village mayors (Pulenuu), and the official female government representative for the village (Sui Tamaitai) are among the list of people who can apply for a court-ordered P.O.

Attorneys, village representatives, child welfare officers, counselors, health service providers, social workers, and teachers comprise the list of people who can apply for a protection order.

Protection Orders are dealt with in the Family Court that was established under the Family Court Act 2014. P.O.s, divorces, custody, and maintenance matters are heard in Family Court.

It is issued when the court is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence that someone is committing or has committed an act of domestic violence on any member of your family.

The P.O. is to prevent a member of the family from being physically or sexually assaulted as a result of D.V.

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