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Victim’s sa’o believes ifoga was enough in student rape

Assistant Public Defender Michael White representing Tone Pulou, a former teacher who has pled guilty to raping his 13-year old student, has recommended that his client be sentenced to jail for eight to ten years. As a result of the rape, the young girl gave birth to a son.

Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Folau who’s prosecuting, recommended to the court to jail the former teacher for a full 20 years.

Pulou appeared yesterday for sentencing before Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond, who was accompanied on the bench by Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr, however after hearing recommendations from both sides, the court decided to postpone the sentencing.

The defense called to the stand Muagututi’a Muaivasa Tauoa, the senior chief of the victim in this matter. The court heard that the senior chief had accepted the ifoga — the traditional cultural forgiveness on behalf of the victim’s family.

The prosecutor asked the senior chief to explain the meaning of ifoga. Muagututi’a responded that the ifoga is one of the most important aspects of the Samoan culture.

“It takes place when a family is wronged by a perpetrator. Then the family of the perpetrator will go to the family of the victim and someone will be covered with a fine mat,” said the chief.

The court heard that during the ifoga, the defendant’s parents were the ones who were covered with the fine mat and fine mats were given to the victim’s family along with $500.

The prosecutor asked Muagututi’a as to who had received the fine mats, and he replied that they were accepted by himself, his sister (who’s the grandmother of the victim) and the extended family.

The court heard that the entire $500 was handed to the victim’s mother.

Folau asked if an ifoga is appropriate in a case where a 13-year old was raped, and the the witness replied, “Yes it is.”

The prosecutor went on to ask Muagututi’a if he had discussed the ifoga with the victim before he accepted it, and he said he discussed it with the victim twice, along with her parents and the extended family.

Folau asked Muagututi’a if the victim accepted the ifoga and the witness said the victim accepted it and so did her family.

The prosecutor asked the witness if he agreed the family has accepted the ifoga to keep  peace within the village.

“Not only that, but the family of Tone continues to this day in providing clothes, money and food as a demonstration of their love for the victim’s son” said the senior chief, referring to the infant.

The prosecutor asked Muagututi’a if he agreed that the ifoga is more for the families involved and not necessarily for the victim in this case; to which he replied “it’s the same thing”.

The witness told the court that he is present in court on behalf of the victim, saying that the victim’s family and the victim have accepted the ifoga.

“You feel this somehow absolves the defendant’s actions?” asked Folau and Muagututi’a responded, “Yes”.

Assistant Public Defender White said this case traveled in many different levels — the victim had given birth at a very young age, and the defendant had stolen her youth by his actions in this case.

“This young child is blameless in this case. The entire burden falls on Tone and he understands that from this day forward he’ll be a convicted sex offender. This is a mantle that he has inflicted upon himself and he knows that there are consequences,” said White.

He added that forgiveness was sought and it was accepted by the family. White said that the defendant did something terrible, and no doubt that he will be punished by the court because he should be punished for his actions.

The defense lawyer noted that despite that, the defendant has lived an exemplary life and was working hard at his school, however he made a mistake that will scar him for the rest of his life.

As far as a recommendation for jail time, White noted that the minimum is five years with the maximum of 20, however he will not insult the court and ask for the minimum jail term. “I ask that the defendant be sentenced from eight to ten years” said White.

He added that the reason behind this is because he met with the victim’s mother who asked for only two things — the defendant must not have any further contact with the victim and whatever is the sentence, it should be fashioned for a lengthy period so the victim can complete her education without any interference from the defendant.”

“This case is extremely disturbing, extremely upsetting, extremely disappointing on a number of levels” said Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Folau.

She noted the defendant is a teacher and the victim was a 13-year old student and the defendant is 13 years older than the victim.

“The defendant was in a position of authority and he abused that authority as a teacher and took advantage of the victim who did not know better.”

She added this was the victim’s first experience while just starting puberty and just beginning to feel the feelings that young girls get at that age.

Folau said that as Samoans we believe that when we send our children to school, the teacher then becomes the parent.

“We expect the teachers to treat our children as if it’s their own children. It’s extremely unfortunate that in this particular case that instead of Tone Pulou looking at this child as one of his daughters or as a younger sister, he looked at her as someone he took advantage of to have sexual intercourse with,” said Folau.

She added that it’s extremely unfortunate on another level, because the victim’s parents are both teachers who are hurt because they trusted the defendant as a fellow teacher to honor their child and protect their child.

Folau said she also spoke to the victim’s mother who did not wish to come to court, because she knew the matai (chiefs) would be present and she continues to live in her village and tends to family and village obligations.

“Realistically, your Honors, the ifoga is not to help the victim in any particular case; however it is for keeping the peace within the families” said Folau.

She added that the government believes that there is a need for some accountability at some level, that the ifoga just does not do that in this particular case, for this particular defendant and for this particular victim.

Folau said that there no way the victim and her mother can come to court and tell the court how they really feel because they must obey and abide by what the Sa’o (Senior Chief) of their family has instructed them to do.

She added that the victim and her family understand the ifoga has been accepted and they really do not have a choice, but to live with that decision.

“Does that make things better for them? Obviously not, they now have a grandchild, who they love and they have a daughter in addition, who they now must continue to support and help graduate and go to college,” said Folau.

The Deputy AG reiterated that the defendant should not have any further contact with the victim, noting that he would continue to manipulate the victim.

“The mother wants her daughter to graduate and have a future and do something with her life,” said the Deputy AG.

Folau touched on the ifoga again and told the court that it’s within their discretion whether or not to accept it.

She added that from the senior chief’s testimony, the ifoga was accepted by the family however, “Was it accepted by the victim and her parents?”, Folau asked, adding that she “highly doubts it.”

“This is not a property crime, where you can refill what has been taken, where you can make right what has been wronged, this is the case of a young girl who lost her virtue and has given birth to a son and in the fa’asamoa this is a huge stigma that she must carry around for the rest of her life,” she stated.

Folau added that the government and the court must send a message that this is unacceptable, because this happens every day in the territory and for whatever reason, it can almost be part of our daily lives, which it shouldn’t be.

She added that part of the fa’asamoa is based on our family values, which are loving and protecting our children.

“The phrase that it takes a village to raise a child” initiated from here — because of how our fa’asamoa is, and this is not what our fa’asamoa is about — it’s about us protecting our children,” said Folau.

The Deputy AG asked the court to sentence the defendant to the maximum allowable under the law and the government does not necessarily oppose a probated sentence, however the government believes that a lengthy detention is definitely warranted.

The government also asked that the court order the defendant to reimburse the additional cost that the government had to spend on getting him back into the territory.

She noted that it’s obvious that as soon as the victim reported what happened, Pulou fled the territory; however it was not the victim — it was the hospital who contacted the government that the victim was pregnant.

Folau added the defendant had a job, he was expected at work, school was in session and he took off — “the government had to employ extraordinary measures to get the defendant back into the territory.”

Richmond and Mamea took about a 15-minute recess. When they returned to the bench, they continued the matter to today, noting that the court has to conduct research before rendering sentencing in this matter.

Pulou was initially charged by the government with rape, first degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child; however, in a plea deal with the government he pled guilty to rape while the government moved to dismiss the latter two charges.

Pulou admitted in court he had an ongoing relationship with his student which led to the girl’s pregnancy. He admitted during the plea hearing last month that he had sexual intercourse with his female student between September 2009 and February 2010.

The rape charge carries a sentence of five to 20 years in jail.

The matter came to light when the female student and her mother went to see the OBGYN clinic at LBJ Medical Center only to find out she was pregnant, at which time Child Protective Services with the Department of Human Social Services was contacted.

Pulou fled the territory to Australia last year when the government moved to file criminal charges. In October 2011, when Pulou visited relatives in Hawai’i, he was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents based on a warrant issued by the local District Court.