Violence levels worrying. Let's protect the vulnerable

It was a breach of trust. The crushing of one’s dreams by a ruthless act perpetrated by a father. And the sleepless nights that seem to go on for eternity. 

Life will never be the same for the 14-year-old girl, who courageously helped the prosecution team recently through her testimony in a Supreme Court proceeding, that ensured her step-father got jailed for raping her.

The teen, who was a year younger when she was sexually assaulted, is now a resident at the Samoa Victim Support Group [S.V.S.G.] and chose to share her story in the hope it will inspire others to speak up.

In a story published in the 26 November 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, she spoke of how she got scared and became consumed with anger and sorrow and wanted to end her life.

“I have decided to share a few things on my mind not only from experience but I want others who are suffering to know that there is always hope for them,” she said. 

“I understand what you are going through, because I was also in your shoes.

“When the incident occurred that changed my life so much, I was scared, angry, and hopeless and I was consumed with much sorrow.

“I admit that my mind was filled with negative thoughts of wanting to end my life.”

But thankfully, an active humanitarian sector in Samoa led by organisations such as the S.V.S.G., are giving hope to the downtrodden and the vulnerable and helping them to navigate life after the abuse.

But the path to a life free of violence for our women, girls and children appears to be a bridge too far in this day and age, if the crime statistics released by the Ministry of Police, Prisons and Corrections early this week is any indication.

The Ministry’s Tologata Tile Tamoaleaoa Misieliota – in a presentation on Wednesday at a meeting of Family Safety Committees – revealed that a total of 340 domestic violence cases were reported to the Police between January and October 2020.

Most of the cases were reported in Upolu (302), though Savai’i (38) was not spared as the tentacles of this human scourge spread far and wide. As they say about statistics, the numbers don’t lie and could be symptomatic of a wider and quietly growing crisis in our villages. 

The data, based on the cases reported to the Police, shows Falefa recorded the highest number of domestic violence cases over the 10-month period with 25 cases, followed by Vaimoso (23 cases), Satapuala (21 cases), Toamua (20 cases) and Vailele (19 cases), Faleasiu (17), Falelauniu (17), Vaitele-Uta (16), Vaiusu (15), Malie (15), Saleimoa (14), Leauvaa (14), Fasitoo-Tai (14), Vailoa (13), Faleula (13), Nofoalii (11), Leulumoega (10), Fagalii (9), Laulii (8) and Maagao (8) for a total of 302 cases for Upolu. 

In Savai’i there were a total of 38 cases with Salelologa recording seven, followed by Fusi (4), Asau (4), Fogapoa (2), Safai (2), Samalaeulu (2), Papa i Puleia (2), Sapapalii (2) and Sataua (2) and the villages of Foalilo, Taga, Vailoa Palauli, Neiafu-Uta, Faga, Iva, Fagamalo, Lelepa, Vaisala and Falelupo all with one case each over the 10 month period. 

We must admit the statistics from the Ministry confirms how big the challenge has become at the community level, and calls for a concerted effort by everyone to address the underlying issues, which create a conducive environment for such behaviour to continue to the detriment of women and girls’ peace and security.

Much has been said and done over the years to address gender-based violence (including domestic violence), and it is a space that continues to attract millions of dollars in both Samoa Government and donor funding.

So what is the long-term solution to address growing violence in society that most of the time targets our most vulnerable members? 

We note the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women being marked on November 25 and the 2020 theme of “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!” 

And the launching of the 16 days of activism by the United Nations to conclude on 10 December 2020, which is International Human Rights Day. 

Even the suggestion early this week by family violence prevention advocate, Tuiloma Sina Retzlaff, for Samoa’s culture and Christian religious practices to provide solutions to tackling the crisis is worth considering.

But as citizens we must take individual responsibility for the path we will take as part of the national collective to tackle this scourge, which continues to victimise our young and deny them the freedom to grow up in loving peaceful homes and community.

The village of Vaiee – in conjunction with its village council leadership – revealed through its Family Safety Committee Member Mafutaga Magele on Monday that they have stepped forward and introduced a $2,000 fine and village banishment as penalties for domestic violence.

Since the committee’s violence prevention work began last year, the village has not had a single case of domestic violence. 

In saying that is your village on the list of domestic violence cases that was made public early this week by the Ministry of Police, Prisons and Corrections? If it is then what are you as a village resident doing about it?

It is unacceptable that in the 21st Century there are people in this nation who think it's normal to subject women, girls and children to ill-treatment and violence of all forms and kinds, in contravention of local and international law.

We must act and speak as one voice to condemn all forms of violence and do our part to protect the society’s most vulnerable from harm.

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