In Samoa’s first nationwide Inquiry into family violence, a number of myths, or widely held but false ideas were highlighted to “prevent confusion and clear the way for effective action.” Here are some of them:
Myth 1: Alcohol and Drugs cause family violence.
Reality: Alcohol and drugs are not present in the vast majority of family violence incidents reported to the police in Samoa. Furthermore, many people consume alcohol and drugs without going on to commit violence. The reality is that alcohol and drug abuse can sometimes trigger violence by altering inhibitions and decreasing patience and tolerance levels, but it is not the root cause of that violence.
Myth 2: Family violence is caused by anger.
Reality: Anger is either a tool perpetrators use to scare their victim into submission or a trigger of family violence, it is not a cause of the violence itself. This is evident by when a perpetrator is committing a violent act they can easily pause if someone knocks at the door or the phone rings and not every person who angers the perpetrator is abused. Perpetrators are often in control of their actions, and not consumed by anger, to the point they can ensure any physical violence is carried out on parts of the body that are less likely to be visible to others. In other situations anger can trigger the underlying causes of family violence and therefore those people who struggle to contain their anger may be more at risk of perpetrating such violent acts.
Myths 3: Abusers are often strangers, or terrible monsters and only adults abuse children.
Reality: The Inquiry has heard multiple stories where the perpetrator of sexual violence against a child is a close family member. Other common perpetrators included teachers, pastors, neighbours or friends. Neither was there any upper or lower age limit of those carrying out the crimes, in keeping with research and studies undertaken in countries worldwide.
Myth 4: Children often make up stories and can’t be trusted.
Reality: Children rarely report their abuse and when they do, they are often not believed. Reporting such an incident can cause extreme pressures and stress within the family, even arguments. Under emotional duress and heavy questioning children even retract their statement. This does not mean that they have lied.
Myth 5: Children invite sexual abuse
by acting or dressing seductively.
Reality: No child (or indeed adult) wants to be sexually abused and the psychological and physical impact can be devastating and last a lifetime. A child cannot give consent for sexual activity and by this reason alone cannot be held responsible for any sexual acts. By placing the blame onto the victim in this way society is merely allowing the abuser to avoid responsibility for their actions
Myth 6: Sexual abuse always leaves evidence.
Reality: A lack of physical evidence of sexual assault is often cited as support that an alleged perpetrator must be innocent. However, research shows that it is rare, even in cases where abuse has otherwise been proved. Some acts, like oral sex and fondling, leave no physical trace. Even injuries from penetration heal very quickly.
Myth 7: Only girls are sexually abused.
Reality: It is a dangerous myth that only girls are abused. Dangerous because it means that boys receive less attention and are therefore more vulnerable and also because our support services are then not set up to deal with such cases.
Myth 8: Women are obliged to have sex with their husbands once they are married.
Reality: The Crimes Act 201372 removes the specific exemption of marital rape contained within the Crimes Ordinance 1961. This means that rape within a marriage is a criminal offence, punishable by up to life in prison.
Myth 9: Fuā (Jealousy) causes men to beat their wives.
Reality: Jealousy arises from a combination of the need for power and control and traditional gender roles of men and women. In a patriarchal society men are deemed to ‘own’ their women. Any man whose wife or partner is seen to be talking to other men can be viewed as being undermined or having lost power and control. Jealousy is the consequence of a man’s need to retain power and control and perceiving that to be undermined by their partner talking to another man (or being suspected of it). Jealousy is a very powerful emotion which can be a trigger for violence but is not a cause. It must also be noted that jealousy is not solely a male preserve. It is simply far more prevalent among males arising from the patriarchal nature of society.
Myth 10: ‘Being smacked as a child made me into the good person I am today’ or ‘It didn’t do me any harm’.
Myth 11: Being exposed to violence as a child means they are destined to go on and become a perpetrator or victim of violence when they grow up.
Reality: When someone says of a violent upbringing ‘well it didn’t do me any harm’, or ‘it made me the person I am today’, neither are true or have any factual basis. However, neither does it mean that a child who has a violent upbringing is guaranteed to go on to become a perpetrator or victim of violence when they grow up. A violent upbringing increases the chance a child will go on to become a perpetrator or victim, it does not make it certain.
That means that a person can have a violent upbringing and go on to lead a life totally free of violence, and indeed many do. If we look at 100 children who grow up without violence 10 may go on to be victims or perpetrators of violence but for 100 children who grow up with violent discipline this number may be 30. Therefore the people who say ‘it made me who I am’ or ‘it never did me any harm’ may be the lucky ones who did not succumb to the increased risk. Similarly, out of the 100 children who grew up with violence it is not inevitable that they will go on to experience further violence. This is important to acknowledge so that they are not stigmatized and assume the role of victim or perpetrator, fulfilling the prophecy that was put upon them.
Myth 12: The Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) gives children rights which lead to increased drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, disrespectful behaviour, violence and suicide.
Reality: There are no rights within the CRC which permit children to engage in any of these activities, nor remove the right of the parent to raise their child as they wish. Rather, it is violence towards children which contributes to these types of behaviours. The CRC prohibits all forms of violence towards children in order to prevent this, thereby better protecting the dignity and integrity of the child and protecting the rights of the parents. It is also a framework which can support the Fa’asamoa as the Inquiry found in the case of Tavita. Samoa was actually involved in the development of the CRC and a leader in signing it before any of the other Pacific countries, as it was recognized at the time as embodying the principles of the Fa’asamoa and the Constitution. Used effectively it can strengthen the Fa’asamoa and application of religious values.
Myth 13: The Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) interferes with parental responsibility to discipline and raise one’s children.
Reality: The CRC affirms the right and responsibility of the parent to raise their children in their best interests. The CRC contains a series of rights for children to ensure their development and freedom from actions that are not in their best interests, such as ensuring they are raised in an environment that is free from violence or other inhuman or degrading punishments. No other limitations are put upon a parent’s right and responsibility to raise and discipline their child.
Myth 14: The Bible says that wives are inferior to husbands and should be physically disciplined if they fail to obey.
Reality: The Bible is quite clear that men and women were created equally in the image of God and there is absolutely no reference to physical discipline between husband and wife or intimate partners. On the contrary there are extensive teachings around nonviolence, kindness, tolerance, peacefulness and even sacrifice. This myth is perpetuated by those seeking to maintain the current patriarchal system.
Myth 15: Banning corporal punishment will mean lots of parents end up in jail.
Reality: “Parents are not jailed for a single spanking, just as adults are not imprisoned for slapping another adult once.” To claim that such a law would lead to a mass imprisonment of parents is melodramatic and indicates the person using such an argument is looking for an excuse to carry on smacking children. Only adults who continually and/or severely beat their children will risk attention from the police and a custodial sentence.
Myth 16: Banning corporal punishment will lead to increased crime.
Reality: Because of the complex nature of crime rates in society it is difficult to accurately attribute cause and effect in relation to corporal punishment. There is no definitive evidence to suggest this to be the case and research tends to show that the opposite is true, that banning corporal punishment can reduce crime rates and lead to a range of other positive societal outcomes. Sweden, for example, has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world.
The Inquiry has found how violence breeds violence so in itself must surely increase violent crime. The police reported an increase of violent crime in Samoa, supporting this conclusion. Further, the effects of family violence have consequences that increase the risk of many crimes. It increases school drop-out rates, which leads to lack of income which leads to stealing.
It leads to anti-social behaviour that leads in turn to crime. None of the consequences of violence are related to the reduction of crime. If we conclude that all physical and harsh verbal discipline of children is violence then it appears highly likely that this will only increase crime rates overall, whilst a ban on corporal punishment is likely to lower crime rates.