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Summit to end Violence Against Women

American Samoa joined other US territories at a summit hosted by the office of Violence Against Women with the Department of Justice in partnership with the National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA) last month, the first of its kind for the territories.

Local Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop was among the speakers who gave a presentation at the summit, which was held in Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

Ms Jessop spoke on the effectiveness of collaboration in addressing the problem of violence against women. As the chairperson for the Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) against Family Violence, she noted that after moving back to American Samoa in 2010, she realized there was a disconnect between the primary service providers for domestic violence and sexual assault victims and the actual victims.

“I realized I had victims who were falling through the cracks who were not getting access to services and resources available to them.” She said the local coalition then hosted training about Domestic Violence, and brought down Suzanna Tiapula, the director of the National Center, an arm of the National District Attorney’s Association.

“It was through that training that I realized we needed a vehicle to bring together all of the service providers for DV/SA victims and it was then the Multi-Disciplinary Team was created” she said.

Ms Jessop said that since putting the MDT together, she also realized how important it was to build up the credibility of the MDT so that people would take their work seriously.

The only way to build up the credibility of the MDT, she realized, would be to build up her own credibility, and then her work began.

The Deputy AG said she kicked off by filing several cases of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. She said she not only talked the talk, but also walked the walk, and slowly, she earned the trust of local service providers.

She added that, to date, she has a strong relationship with the police department, and the MDT has provided many trainings for the Territory, such as bringing down experts to train local doctors and nurses to be able to perform sexual assault examinations.

“Assistant US Attorney of the Western Pacific, Alicia Limtiaco spoke earlier about a Child Abuse/Human Trafficking conference held in American Samoa.  The MDT organized it and organized a conference that dealt with the interplay of the Church, the Law and the Faasamoa when it comes to issues of Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse and they invited pastors to speak, along with local judges and local village chiefs. She added there is still much work for the MDT to do in the territory however to do that work, they must collaborate with local service providers.

“In order to do that, we must just do the work. “We must reach out to all the necessary partners. “We must talk to each other and help each other. “We must all work together. “This work that we do, fighting DV/SA is a work that involves everyone” she stated.

“No one person can do it all by himself or herself, we need each other”.

Attending the summit were Police Commander Tauese Va’a Sunia from the Department of Public Safety, Fa’aalu Iuli with the Alliance for Strengthening Families, the Criminal Justice Planning Agency Director Taufetee John Faumuina, and Tu Vele from CJPA, along with Associate Judge Suapaia Pereira and Deputy AG Jessop, who represented the Attorney General’s office.

The invitation from the SCESA to the delegates announced that this summit groundbreaking event would be the first to bring together key decision makers representing the judicial branch, prosecution, law enforcement, victim advocates, and grant administrators from all of the US Territories.

SCESA said this Summit would provide an opportunity to craft a comprehensive plan to address violence against women in each territory and  there would be “opportunities for facilitated dialogue to address emerging issues, identify trends, challenges, successes, and promising practices” among and across all of the Territories as well as provide opportunities for shared learning across disciplines.

“The US Territories have a history of working together on many issues. “But never before, has there been a gathering to support collaboration and information sharing to address violence against women on all of the U.S.Territories” said the DOJ invitation.

The DOJ hoped for this summit that the judicial representation from the US territories would be an instrumental step in the work to address violence