Ninety per cent of intimate partner violence in Samoa goes unreported, according to the national Inquiry into family violence.
The final report of the Office of the Ombudsman’s two-year inquiry was released on Wednesday and reveals shocking statistics into the realities of family violence.
It is a result of consultations, submissions, data gathering and surveys, which among other things, reveals family violence in Samoa has become a new normal.
Of the 90 per cent of unreported partner violence, the Samoa Family Health and Safety Study of 2006 found 86 per cent believe their abuse is normal or not serious. Even worse, 70 per cent believed their abuse was justified.
“Normal” violence is considered to be anything from a slap on the face, being punched, shamed or being sworn at or told off, according to respondents in a 2017 family safety study by the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.
“When society is at a point where the abused are no longer able to recognise what is happening to them, then it can be concluded that it has been fully normalised and accepted in society.
“This in itself is a significant barrier to reporting family violence and contributes to an ever worsening cycle of violence at a societal level,” the national inquiry report states.
Two of the ways violence becomes normalised was highlighted in the report: inaction by service providers or community leaders and a lack of services of access to justice.
The stark lack of resources for victims in Samoa contributes to the normalisation of family violence, the report said.
“The provision of services by the Government for victims of family violence is notable only by its total absence,” said the report.
The only protection or service currently afforded to victims is protection orders, which due to lack of awareness and the expense of legal service is not widely used.
For victims, the police and the national health services are two areas where third parties can intervene and provide essential support.
The inquiry found these two institutions are lacking adequate training to attend to victims and learned how negative attitudes towards family violence and sexual abuse err towards blaming victims and maintaining the “veil of silence” around violence.
An anonymous rape survivor told the inquiry how Police accused her of lying, and treated her with hostility when she went to report being raped in a bar.
“Many times throughout that night, I just wanted to give up and go home,” she said of the reporting experience.
“Police treatment added to my feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame. It was so hard to keep going to report this rapist.”
The report states without a zero tolerance approach to family violence, police endorse family violence and allow it to flourish.
Similarly, the public health system does not consider family violence a “public health” issue and as such, does not direct attention towards training nurses, doctors and support staff to attend to victims appropriately.
Healthcare professionals are some of the few people who will actually come into contact with victims and with the right training, can identify victims if they won’t admit they are being abused, and help them access support services.
A case study highlighted in the report tells the story of Tina (name has been changed) who was a medical student in a rural clinic.
When a 14-year-old boy presented with lacerations to the back of the head, he told Tina and the nurse his father hit him with a plank of two by four wood.
“Tina asked the nurse whether they should report the matter but was told in no uncertain terms to mind her own business and that they shouldn’t become involved in family matters,” the report said.
A 2015 study into violence against women in Samoa found that 63 per cent of front line staff at Moto’otua Hospital had no understanding of gender-based violence.
For both police and healthcare providers, the inquiry recommends Family Safety training addressing gender stereotypes, causes and impacts of family violence and how to deal with victims and perpetrators of family violence.
Ideally, this training would also set these first responders up to refer victims to support services, but first those services need to be well established and connected to each other.
Without a coordinated sector approach to enable victims to report their abuse, Samoa’s attitude towards violence will further blur into normality.