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Op Ed: Who is looking out for the children?

Samoa News reported in the second week of January 2012 on the statistics out of the Attorney General’s Office, which indicate that there is a “massive increase” in sexual crimes in the territory, based on figures the office has collected in 2010, and compared to 2011.

Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop-Folau, who is the lead prosecutor for numerous criminal cases and was appointed to be the Deputy Attorney General in July 2011, told Samoa News in an interview that in 2010 — for sexual crimes alone — more than 300 cases arrived at the Attorney General’s office; “however in 2011 it’s more than doubled, and that’s a massive increase compared to the past”.

The Deputy Attorney General said that a majority of the cases on the rise are rape and sexual assault and the victims are mostly minor girls, 16 years of age and under.

Samoa News asked Lefiti about her views on the rise in sexual crimes in 2011, despite efforts by advocates like herself and prosecutions by the AG’s Office.

Jessop-Folau had said in her interview that a majority of the cases involve minors, because perpetrators know that young girls are easy targets— because the young girls don't know any better. She recommended that parents talk to their children about sex before someone else does.

She said that, as a prosecutor, her cases tell her there’s a lack of communication between parents and their children when it comes to sex education.

Speaking as one who must prosecute these cases she said, “Parents in general should speak to their children about sex education, it’s not taught within our education system— and as a parent it’s our job to talk to our children.”

The Deputy Attorney General says the conversation will be difficult and sensitive, however if you as a parent cannot talk to your child, then who will?

Lefiti agrees. The following is her response in full:

The sexual assaults, rapes and molestation cases that the Deputy AG mentioned have doubled in 2011 since the 2010 case totals do not include the cases reported to DPS which are not prosecuted — that is, victims or family members refuse or are reluctant to press charges — this includes sexual assault and molestation cases that DPS have referred to other NGO offices for expedition without due process.

Then there are many cases in which DPS chooses to reconcile the parties and send the victim right back to the offenders. These particular cases allow the offenders off the hook and the victim is denied justice.

Many are the unreported cases by families who choose to try reconciliation to conceal the crime to protect the offender.  (A case of alleged sexual assault is currently pending in the courts which implicates a wife’s threats to keep the victims quiet).

It is paramount that parents talk to their children (who are never too young) that it is a crime to have anyone sexualize them. Parent or adults must talk to them of what unacceptable behaviors are, what seduction is, and how to avoid it and protect themselves.

Last year alone according to the increase of sex crimes, the perpetrators are uncles, fathers and grandfathers within the families. It also includes the mothers’ lovers who are victimizing her children. There is also a case of an adult sister-in-law convicted of initiating lesbian acts with a child.

Folks, sex crimes are roosting in our homes because we are not informing our children and reassuring them how it is so important to tell.

Sexual education is a very broad and wide subject easy to misunderstand.

Instead it should be the schools’ responsibility to inform and educate the faculty what statutory rape is and the penalty for being reported or convicted. Schools should not hire or transfer any faculty member who is being accused. (Innocent until proven guilty should not apply here). Instead of the schools holding their own fact-finding board decisions etc. the accused must be reported to DPS immediately and allow the justice system to prove them innocent. 

The students need to be educated on what is sexual harassment and what is criminal sexual behavior. They need to know what their rights are on this matter so they do not suffer in silence. It also puts the student in check on behaviors towards faculty members.

The bottom line is the faculty members are adults and educators who are in a position to exploit the students’ trust and willingness to obey. It is the faculty members who are responsible for their own behavior and for discouraging fraternization.

Information on sexual harassment and criminal sex behaviors must be reemphasized within the sports realm as well.

Look at the nightmare of accused former Penn. State Univ. Assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for sexualizing boys. Parallel to the accusations is the famous late Coach Paterno who failed to follow up on his witnessing Sandusky raping a boy.

An unreported teacher or coach accused of sexual misbehavior has a better chance to escape prosecution because he is an excellent teacher loved and respected by peers, students and he is needed by DOE. The sad predominant attitude is—what’s one victim compared to the need of thousands of students to be educated?

“It takes a village to educate a child’’. That education includes awareness on how the child should recognize and report inappropriate sexual behaviors. They should also be taught how repugnant these behaviors are.

I firmly believe working along side parents, should be the pulpit/church. I believe, jointly working with parents, the church leaders should be the first in line to preach against the sexualizing of their lambs and flock. The need is to be proactive in awareness.

Each church has a reporting mechanism that addresses such behaviors. There are also existing consequences and penalties. Unfortunately it seems that addressing such issues might compromise some churches’ tithing, social standing or popularity. With the increase of sex offenders who continue to hold positions or offices within the church, the Ecclesia seems to have lost its powers.

Sadly our laws on sexual assault (convictions) need to be overhauled. “10 days incarceration or $300.00, or both”.

Victims are being victimized in court, brutally mortified while the defense pulls all punches to try and prove the victims are guilty, promiscuous and liars. Only the victims’ tenacity to prove themselves innocent under such duress with support of their families gives them small comfort.

Where do the children turn to if they are being sexualized in their own homes?

Who do they run to when they do not trust their family or church? How can they turn to law enforcers when some DPS officers send them right back to their homes? What is the point when what a victim suffered, far outweighs the offender’s conviction?

Who is looking out for the best interest for the children?

Ipu Avegalio Lefiti is a strong and consistent advocate against sexual abuse and family violence in the local community, and is often a guest editor for Samoa News on the issue. She has been on the front line of the battle for many years, and has included honest and forthright accounts of her personal experiences in her advocacy. She is currently a member of the Multi-Disciplinary-Team (MDT) Against Family Violence, along with Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Folau, who prosecutes under the Violence Against Women Act. Lefiti currently serves as the MDT Vice-Chair