Gubernatorial candidates speak on family violence issues at historic forum
The family violence forum held last week for the gubernatorial candidates by the Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) against family violence was history in the making for American Samoa, said Ipu Avegalio-Lefiti Vice Chairperson of the MDT.
“I was emotionally moved to watch and listen to history in the making... the American Samoa MDT has broken the silence and brought down the final remaining walls on all the family violence issues, including elder abuse,” she said.
The Gubernatorial teams who attended the forum, which was held, Wednesday Sept. 19 at the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium were Salu Hunkin-Finau & Utuoali’i Iuniasolua Savusa, Faoa Aitofele Sunia & Taufete’e John Faumuina, Tim Jones & Tuika Tuika, and Lemanu Peleti Mauga, while Lolo Matalasi Moliga was absent due to family obligations.
Save Liuato Tuitele and Sandra King-Young did not attend this forum, based on their lawyer’s advice not to attend any public forum until the court had decided their challenge of some of the candidates.
The moderator was Tauiliili Silivelio Iosefo, who is also the Chief Probation Officer.
All the candidates thanked the MDT for hosting a forum on family violence and offered opening remarks.
TEAM SALU & SAVUSA
Salu said family violence issues relate and impact mostly on certain segments of our community, minor children and women, but that makes it of no less importance to our community.
She noted that now is the time to strengthen family’s ties given that families are the most important unit in our society. Consequently, members of the family, grandparents, parents and children are very important.
She said what is equally important are the internal and external forces which have and continue to affect minor children, women and even family members with special needs and the elderly.
“They are most vulnerable to abuse and violence in many forms in their own homes,” Salu said. Family violence protection and services implemented by the government throughout our community are critical to ensure that integrity and the critical role of families in our territory result in the success of our families and ultimately build a strong, healthy and happy community.
TEAM FAOA & TAUFETE’E
Faoa said his take on this forum is for the candidates to come together to share ideas and thoughts on the issue of family violence.
Family violence is a problem that is not exclusive to just one country or one race, it is not selective not does it discriminate, he said, adding that Team Faoa and Taufete’e feel that family violence should not only be a priority in the administration but it should be a priority in any household.
“The one thing that we should all be grateful for is the hard work by the various departments as well as numerous organizations that have raised the awareness of family violence in the territory.”
Faoa said in the past the subject has been surrounded with secrecy and it was thought it should not be discussed in public but should be kept behind closed doors.
He said it is good that it is now coming out in the open.
TEAM JONES AND TUIKA
Tuika said he has six children and 14 grandchildren and it’s been 40 years since his marriage and not once he has ever argued with his wife and has never laid a hand on any of his children. He hopes that members of the public will follow that example.
Jones said family violence is a very sensitive issue, and added that he has never raised a hand on his children. Jones noted that his children have disappointed him sometimes, however he never raised a hand, but he always found a way to speak to his children, a way that he wants his children to conduct themselves.
“I will support wholeheartedly shutting down family violence... but I think it’s not going to be a small task,” said Jones.
TEAM LOLO AND LEMANU
Lemanu briefly apologized on behalf of Candidate Lolo for not appearing at the forum due to family obligations. He said their slogan is ‘People Comes First’ and as such, “We believe the people are very important given that a government is built around the people and we want the people, our people to come first,” he said.
QUESTION ONE AND ANSWERS
The law requires that certain groups of professionals report to the authorities’ evidence of suspected abuse of children for investigation and prosecution. This requirement is called a mandatory report. Do you support such a requirement, and if so, why?
TEAM AFOA & LE’I
Afoa responded, as the saying goes, "it takes a village to raise a child." It is imperative and we will enforce mandatory reporting by schools, childcare providers, and families of cases of abuse, especially of children. He said there must be protocols in place, to ensure the protection of the victim and the proper responses once the cases are reported.
“In addition we must do a better job of investigating and prosecuting these cases… the bottom line is that we must protect the victims.” Le’i added that he and Afoa support the reporting of crimes involving any form of abuse against minors, women, and the elders in the territory.
TEAM SALU & SAVUSA
Salu said we won’t know what’s occurring in our families, in the schools, and in the work place unless it’s reported. She shared that there is a current program conducted by the Department of Human and Social Services, called “strengthening families” which can help families, especially with children who are consuming alcohol.
Salu said that there is a need to re-educate families, provide training, and look for alternative ways of dealing with behavior that’s not wanted in the home, or in the classroom, instead of beating up the kids.
“Yes we’re very much in support of mandatory reporting, but yes we need to look at all alternatives programs to re-educate our community in alternative ways rather than violence,” said Salu. Savusa added there are also consequences for failing to report these actions of abuse, which the authorities would have to look at.
TEAM FAOA & TAUFETE’E
Faoa responded by quoting title 45.2002, which lists and provides the responsibilities of those who are mandated by law to report abuse and neglect of children by offenders. He said reporting is a vital component to the fight against child abuse, and there is compulsory reporting by those who have direct contact with our children. However Faoa said the list of responsibilities in the statute is incomplete.
“What the list is missing is the reporting by non-governmental professionals and those in the community who also have contact with our children. For example, faifeau, who have much contact with our children should also be included in the list.”
He said there should also be a statute for anyone — or parents who have knowledge or should reasonably know that abuse is taking place to be subject to prosecution, if their failure to report leads to the injury of a child.
“Team Faoa and Taufete’e fully support this requirement,” he said. He added that in other words, when someone lays a hand on a child, report it. However what’s happening is that when an incident such as this happens, the family opts not to report anything to the authorities, in case the father may be taken to jail or this may bring shame to the families, yet it should be reported. “This mentality has to stop, now is the time to set aside the shame and report the abuse and neglect of children to the authorities,” said Faoa.
TEAM JONES & TUIKA
Jones said the American Samoa Annotated Code, has the laws to deal with the most violent acts that occur in the household and other places.
However the question is, are those laws being enforced? “I think some are, some are not, and why not?”
He said mandatory reporting should trigger those mechanisms of policies and procedures, however if there were no trigger mechanisms it would mean nothing. Mandatory reporting is the beginning of putting these mechanisms into operation.
Team Jones and Tuika wholeheartedly support that teachers must also be mandated to report abuse.
TEAM LOLO & LEMANU
Lemanu said the purpose of mandatory reporting is to increase the safety and improve the care of people who have experienced violence, and secondly to serve as a model for reaching awareness in the community. Team Lolo and Lemanu support mandatory reporting and they want to make sure that there are laws in place to protect the innocent.
Lemanu said sufficient training should be provided to those who are mandated by law to report acts of abuse.
Part two of the part of the family violence forum will continue next week.