OP ED: Domestic Violence Steps Into the Light

Between August and December of 2017, the Alliance Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault talked with several local American Samoans about Domestic Violence in the territory: their knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, experiences.

They include healthcare providers and administrators, attorneys, first responders, social service providers, and law enforcement.

These key informants have first hand knowledge and experience with people who are victimized by other family members, including abused children, elderly, and the disabled. They shed light onto a crisis in our community that has been ongoing for generations because, according to these informants, Domestic Violence (DV) is ignored, hidden and rationalized away.

A tenured local first responder stated, “Every week we’ll get a DV call, it’s very often… we stabilize them then move them to the hospital but if they refuse they’ll probably stay in police custody (for their protection) then it’s a matter of them being referred to the proper social service. By the time we get involved the incident has happened several times.”  

Informants from the Courts shared that many times a DV case will come in as a Public Peace Disturbance or PPD. The attorney then has to ‘screen’ the person in custody before arraignment to see if Domestic Violence is involved, especially ‘Intimate Partner Violence’ or IPV which is between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend.

Based on the key informants’ statements, the attorneys are looking for ‘physical violence’, not necessarily emotional, psychological, verbal, financial abuse. Notably, there is no registry or database that houses the information regarding Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault cases, as there is in Samoa.

The Alliance also aimed to pinpoint the most common causes of Domestic Violence in the territory.  Informants cited several probable causes including

  • •          Poverty — ‘stress from finances, economic and social status are issues’
  • •          alcohol abuse
  • •          stress from fa’alavelave which creates frustration, anger, impatience
  • •          palagi influences which have changed the traditional roles and expectations of men and women in Samoan society — ‘the effects of non-Samoan influences on the fa’aSamoa which affects family values, a man’s view of the woman’
  • •          lack of awareness that violence against others is wrong — ‘there’s a power struggle regarding the man being the head of the household’, ‘this has been going on for a long time’
  • •          and the legitimization of violence as a form of discipline aligned with scripture.

It appears that Domestic Violence has become a socialized response to, and result of, dealing with every day life issues within the Samoan culture. One male informant speculates, “because of the fa’aSamoa and the respect we have for our culture, we don’t report domestic violence.”

A male health worker agreed, “the way we’ve been brought up in our culture it’s built around respect and sometimes we carry it to the point that we forget that a person has been beaten — either physically or mentally.”

All informants agreed that Domestic Violence is rarely reported unless an ambulance is needed or police are called – villagers rarely report the incident themselves.

This type of Violence is one of the most unreported crimes in the nation due to the stigma surrounding the battering of women and children.

Informants suggest that this stigma in American Samoa results from fear: fear of retaliation from spouses and family, fear of shaming the family and oneself, fear of losing the primary money earner in the home, and fear of breaking traditional protocols in the fa’aSamoa.

The bottom line is that Domestic Violence is happening often, it is happening in every day situations, and it is being hidden out of fear and lack of awareness that Domestic Violence is wrong. 

Domestic Violence is a crime.

The American Samoa Code Annotated, Title 47, clearly states that “domestic violence is a serious crime against society”. It is also a violation of basic human rights as stated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (United Nations, 1979), also referred to as the ‘International Bill of Rights for Women’, endorsed by the United States.

Armed with information gathered directly from people who work with the abused, and the abusers, the Alliance now aims to increase awareness in our community about the crisis we are facing: generational violence used to communicate power and control, and cope with every day life.

The time is now. Violence against the defenseless, and against each other is not the fa’aSamoa. It is the culture of fear.

To learn more about what’s happening in your community, please attend the Alliance’s Forum on March 15, 2018 at the Fatu o ‘Aiga Hall beginning at 8am.

The theme, “Talking Across Our Differences — using community engagement as solutions to strengthen families” will focus the discussion on a comparison of domestic violence issues between the two Samoa’s, the subject of gender equity and the roles of men in strengthening families.

The guest speaker is Ms. Sina Ratzgraff from Upolu.  Everyone in the community is welcome

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