Victims Of Sexual Violence Too Often Remain Silent In Vanuatu

Victim blaming, shame, customary forms of resolution, trauma all lead to incidents not being reported

By Thompson Marango

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Sept. 16, 2016) – Authorities dealing with rape and violence have confirmed cases where victims are forced to or chose to remain silent and are urging them to report their cases to the Police, so the perpetrators can be dealt with.

The media has received very reliable information of alleged rape cases and assaults recently in Port Vila alone, but authorities said no formal complaints were filed by the victims.

Daily Post has been informed that Police are also aware of the recent allegations but without formal complaints they won’t be able to act. Both the Police and the Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC) have the same stance on the issue of victims who are forced to or chose to remain silent.

“The Vanuatu Women’s Centre’s stand in relation to women who are victims of sexual assault such as rape and incest is, it is better for women and girls to talk out against the incidents of violence in their lives,” said Vola Matas, Legal Officer of the VWC.

Ms Matas said any form of violence against women, including sexual assault should be condemned. She says it is a violation of human rights and women and girls have the right to live a live free of violence.

“If women and girls are not comfortable in reporting violence happening in their lives, there are free confidential counselling services in place here at the Women’s Centre to assist them. We work confidentially with the police in addressing such issues,” she added. According to Matas, there are several reasons why women who are victims stay silent about sexual assaults.

“One reason is that when women talk about their experiences, they are further traumatized,” she explained. “Just the thought of retelling their story to the police or the court traumatized them so much that they do no report the incidents.

“Another reason is the customary way of addressing the issue, when custom reconciliation is done women feel that they are not obliged to report the matter to the police.

“It is also common for women not to report rape cases because they do not want to bring shame on themselves or their family.”

But the VWC’s Legal Officer says the main reason that kept women silent especially in Vanuatu is victim blaming.

“The victim is always blamed because of the way they dress, or being at the wrong place at the wrong time or getting drunk.

“Women do not deserved to be raped. Most of the times people blame the victims and not the perpetrator who should be blamed because of his abusive or violent behavior.

“A girl or a woman has the right to go where ever she chooses to go, we have the right to be safe and the right to walk around freely as enshrined in the Constitution.

“Women also have the responsibility to respect the rights of the other person walking on the road, so why is it that men can’t respect our rights?

“We should blame the perpetrator and hold them responsible for their abusive actions and girls and women should never be blamed. It’s about time men start to respect women and girls because all these violence and sexual assault that is happening is just because the men are not respecting them.”

When asked to comment of the issue, the Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) issued a statement advising the general public especially the vulnerable including people living with disabilities, young girls and their families and guardians of those who are victims of sexual violence to report to the nearest Police Station because it is a very serious offence.

“The police does not expect any chief to deal with or solve rape cases or any sexual cases that involved disable people, children, and women,” the VPF stated.

“Any chief involved in solving rape cases is likely to face charges of conspiracy to defeat the course of justice or interfere with Police investigation during investigation.”

The VPF aware that a lot of sexual cases happening around the communities but people are not taking the issue seriously to report to the police. The statement added that sweeping such cases under the carpet will only encourage more social problems.

In 2015, a journalism student at the University of Queensland investigated this issue in Vanuatu and reported that due to ‘custom tradition’ and a culture of silence, only a small percentage case are reported to authorities and reports that do get filed are not reportedly dealt with adequately.

Vanuatu Daily Post
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