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October 2, 2017 | by  | in News |
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Public Hearings Regarding Family Violence in Samoa

CW: Sexual violence and abuse


The public hearings for Samoa’s National Public Inquiry into Family Violence, led by the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI, also called the Office of the Ombudsman), began on September 18 and are scheduled to run until October 6.

Violence, as understood by the NHRI, includes “physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial, or any other form.”

This is the first national inquiry ordered under section 34 of the Ombudsman Act 2013, which states: “If the Ombudsman becomes aware of widespread, systemic, or entrenched situations or practices that violate human rights, the Ombudsman may initiate an inquiry.”

The Commission of Inquiry is chaired by Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma.

Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi appointed the four other members of the Commission: Falenaoti Mulitalo Kolotita June Ailuai Oloialii, the current President of Vavau Women’s Committee; Agaloatele Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, a Professor of Pacific Studies at the Auckland University of Technology; Leasiolagi Malama Meleisea, the current Director for the Centre of Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa; and Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Leiataua-Lesa, former Minister of Women, Community and Social Development and secretary for the Congregational Christian Church in Samoa Leulumoega since 1989.

Prior to the Inquiry’s launch, Maiava told RNZ that it “will foster a national conversation on violence on the Samoan aiga” to acknowledge family violence as “the shameful thing that it is.”

Maiava highlighted the necessity for multiple sectors of Samoan society to participate in the inquiry — including churches, village councils, educators, volunteers.

The public hearings have thus far displayed a range of presenters.

On September 20, in a public hearing, Lani Wendt Young, survivor of child sexual assault, spoke about her personal experiences of abuse and the culture of “shame, secrecy, and silence” that prevented her from speaking about it for over 30 years.

Young states that “the more light we shed on this issue, the harder it is for abusers to hide. It is easier for perpetrators to abuse and rape when they can trust that their victims will not tell.”

Secretary to the village council of Lotofaga, Maumaalii Samuelu Tili Mulipola, also presented on September 20, informing the Commission of village laws which provide that the penalty payable by women who get pregnant out of wedlock is 20 cartons of tinned fish.

Maumaalii told Newsline Samoa that “our village rule is in support of the teachings of the Bible,” and stated that it was “done out of love.”

“The Bible clearly states that everyone should live a pure life. This means that people should marry and not have relationships outside of marriage.”

Tuiloma Sina Retzlaff, a survivor and researcher of intimate partner violence, presented a study at the September 19 hearing showing that the perpetrators of 50% of reported cases from 2007–2014 were the victim’s spouse or partner.

At the official opening of the Inquiry Maiava stated, “The time has come for the Samoan community to face squarely the fact that the Samoan home is not the safe place it is supposed to be, by virtue of the cultural and Christian values we claim to cherish.”

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