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Domestic Violence A Hot Issue In The Pacific

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Family members and neighbours are starting to report instances of domestic violence in what researchers describe as an exciting change in attitudes in Pacific Island nations.

Around $5 million of New Zealand Aid Programme (NZAID) funding is supporting a project to prevent domestic violence in the Pacific (called the Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence Programme or PPDVP). Assistance is offered region wide and four countries - Tonga, the Cook Islands, Samoa and Kiribati - are getting on-the-ground support from a mentor from the New Zealand Police. The mentor works alongside local police to help establish best practice systems for dealing with domestic violence.

Researchers from Victoria University's Crime and Justice Research Centre, who have assessed the impact the aid programme is having, say there is now much greater awareness that family violence is not okay.

"Having other people, not just victims, report instances of violence is a breakthrough," says researcher Dr Venezia Kingi. "Domestic violence has traditionally been seen as a private affair and that perception is even stronger in conservative religious communities.

"The rights of women are not yet enshrined in law in Pacific countries, but beating your wife is definitely seen as a crime."

Domestic violence reporting rates are on the rise across the board in the Pacific. Other evidence of changing attitudes includes the rise of advocacy groups - the Cook Islands now has two men's groups - and public condemnation of domestic violence. In Kiribati, for example, there was a public demonstration after a woman was beaten to death by her partner.

Domestic Violence Units have been established in each of the four countries intensively involved in PPDVP and all have introduced a domestic violence database which is helping to gather statistics.

Cam Ronald from the New Zealand Police, who is Project Manager for PPDVP, says better data helps identify the people most at risk.

"It is helping police on the ground put up a safety net for those who are experiencing repeated instances of violence."

He says in Tonga, police initiatives include putting extra staff on duty at high risk times like Friday and Saturday nights and regularly visiting homes where repeat offending has taken place.

Researchers say PPDVP has increased public confidence in the police and improved co-operation between all the agencies working to prevent family violence.

"Not only has awareness of the problem increased, so has the capacity to respond to it," says Dr Michael Roguski, Director of Victoria's Crime and Justice Research Centre "A large number of NGOs are working in this area in the Pacific but, historically, there has been mistrust between them and the police. PPDVP has contributed to a dramatic increase in the level of co-operation and that is making prevention work more successful."

PPDVP began in June 2006 for an initial period of five years.

Cam Ronald says while excellent progress has been made in many areas, a number of challenges remain including changing attitudes among one group of Pacific Island males.

"Men aged around 45 years seem to be very resistant to change and that is men in all ranks of the police force and the wider community. We are looking at how we can break through the barriers and get the message to them."

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