Family violence in Samoa

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THE COMMISSION: Members of the Commission of Inquiry into Family Violence in Samoa.

THE COMMISSION: Members of the Commission of Inquiry into Family Violence in Samoa.

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Papalii Tiumalu Caroline Paul-Ah Chong

Remarks at the Family Violence Inqruiry 

Family violence (also known as domestic abuse, battering, or domestic violence) is a pattern of behavior which involves violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. 

It may also involve violence against children or the elderly. Domestic violence takes a number of forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, economic, religious, reproductive, and sexual abuse, and can range from subtle, coercive forms to marital rape and to violent physical abuse such as choking and beating.

Globally, the victims of domestic violence are overwhelmingly women, and women tend to experience more severe forms of violence. Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations worldwide, and one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. Violence against women tends to be less prevalent in developed Western nations, and more normalized or acceptable in the developing world.

Domestic violence is among the most underreported crimes worldwide for both men and women. Due to social stigmas regarding male victimization, men face an increased likelihood of being overlooked by healthcare providers.

Domestic or family violence occurs when the abuser believes that abuse is acceptable, justified, or unlikely to be reported. It may produce intergenerational cycles of abuse in children and other family members, who may feel that such violence is acceptable or condoned. Very few people recognize themselves as abusers or victims because they may consider their experiences as family disputes that just got out of control. 

In abusive relationships, there may be a cycle of abuse during which tensions rise and an act of violence is committed, followed by a period of reconciliation and calm. Victims of domestic violence may be trapped in domestic violent situations through isolation, power and control, cultural acceptance, lack of financial resources, fear, shame, or to protect children. 

As a result of abuse, victims may experience physical disabilities, chronic health problems, mental illness, limited finances, and poor ability to create healthy relationships. Victims may experience psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Children who live in a household with violence often show psychological problems from an early age, such as dysregulated aggression which may later contribute to continuing the legacy of abuse.

In today’s world, family violence, sexual and gender-based violence, poverty, natural disasters, famine, racism, war, materialism, depression, suicide and many other grave issues, are tearing families, communities and countries apart. The repercussions are far reaching and Samoa is not exempt from these issues. 

People living in Samoa are being challenged by many and varied forms of violence and abuse within the family unit, village communities, church communities and in schools. These issues may result in depression which can lead a person to lose all hope and come to a point where they no longer value the gift of life.                                          

Faataua Le Ola plays an advocacy role in the Human Health Services arena and its Executive Council, Management and Staff are dedicated to the Organisation and its Vision and Mission. Our counsellors work to the point of neglecting themselves and their personal lives because their clients and their needs come first. F.L.O’S VISION – A Samoa that is fully empowered to ‘value life’ FLO’S MISSION – To provide information, services and support to assist in the prevention of suicide.

F.L.O’s GOALS:  Provide Services - People in need have access to quality mental health support services

Promote Learning - People in the community are taught basic communication skills for suicide awareness and prevention

Show Leadership - F.L.O. is in the forefront when dealing with problematic social issues which could lead to suicide and is recognized as a leading organization for suicide awareness and prevention

Be an Effective Organisation - F.L.O. continues to conduct its work of providing services to generate positive results in reducing the rate of suicide in Samoa                                                                                                   

Suicide is never the result of a single factor or event. It should never be considered as a means of coping with personal problems. It should never be regarded or dealt with in a simplistic way.  Society, religious beliefs, culture, family violence, mental illness, depression, and the specific struggles of individuals, adults and adolescents, play a major role in this grave issue of suicide.  

F.L.O’s  Suicide Awareness Outreach programmes are conducted in schools, villages, and religious communities both in Upolu and Savaii. Youth and parents are encouraged to attend these awareness programmes together in the hope that the  message of valuing one’s life is received in a positive and constructive manner.

F.L.O. also conducts training workshops. The vision is to recruit and train interested people to be certified with basic counselling skills which will enable them to help those who are in stressful situations in their own communities, work place and homes, to cope with and find solutions to their problems.  

Faataua Le Ola is all about saving lives and it deals specifically with suicide awareness and prevention and focuses on issues that may bring a person to a point where they do not consider their life worth living.  Its logo depicts the words: “Tino / Mafaufau / Agaga – Body / Mind / Spirit” which is the essence of and the 3 components that drive a human being. These are the areas that F.L.O. works with in trying to help people in distress, counselling them away from taking measures which could harm them.

F.L.O. has documented that the majority of suicide cases derive from relationship issues and violence within families. In Samoan society, family connections or one’s identity is of utmost importance and the severing of this connection or link is a significant risk factor for suicide. Suicide prevention programmes focus on strengthening one’s family connections and relationships by keeping channels of communication open and healthy.

F.L.O’s counselling services and awareness programmes are challenged by several factors which have the potential to affect the future of suicide prevention in Samoa i.e.the role of religious beliefs, the fa’a Samoa or culture, family violence, abuse in so many forms, depression and mental illness.

F.L.O. is paying special attention to the issue of youth suicide and the reasons behind this dilemma in order to find possible solutions to the problem. Possible contributing factors are, higher standard of education, globalization and intergenerational conflicts between parents and children.

Global family institutions are being shaped and reshaped in a rapidly and ever changing world, and over the past 20 years these changes have created huge gaps within the Samoan family unit, and the youth especially are being challenged as they experience conflicts between their cultural upbringing and the western/modern mode of thinking. 

Conflicting religious beliefs can also play an integral part in this issue of suicide and whilst religion may be a useful tool in suicide prevention, conflicting beliefs and/or total reliance on religious practices may override the core issues that need to be addressed.                                                                                        

Unaddressed depression is one of the main factors contributing to suicide attempts. As documented, around 60% of F.L.O’s clients seek help because they are depressed and more than half admit to having suicidal thoughts. More often than not, the stigma surrounding depression and the issue of suicide prevents people from seeking help and support in times of need. Depression is a debilitating illness which can grip a person to a point where they are incapable of doing ordinary everyday activities.

Depression is nothing to be ashamed of and it should not be treated lightly. It can be and should be treated with medication, therapy and counselling. This generates positive results which renders an individual able to immerse him or herself back into society. Education is a major factor in addressing and resolving the stigma surrounding depression and suicide.

If people understood that depression is an illness that can be treated, that there is help available for those who are being victimized by family violence and abuse or experiencing stress because of difficulties in life, then F.L.O’s services, offered free of charge, may be sought after and utilized more than it currently is.        

F.L.O. offers a face to face counselling service at its office premises located at the ground floor of the John Williams building, Tamaligi. F.L.O. also offers a 24 hour/7 days a week toll free phone counselling service, Samoa Lifeline 800-5433. F.L.O. also conducts “post vention” (counselling) visits to families of victims of attempted and completed suicides.

F.L.O. works with government ministries namely, Ministry of Women, Community & Social Development, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Police, Ministry of Justice, Red Cross Society, Ministry of Natural Resource & Environment, in areas and projects relevant to its work as the leading N.G.O. for Suicide Awareness and Prevention.

F.L.O. refers clients to the National Health Services Mental Health Unit, the Ministry of Police Domestic Violence Unit, the Ministry of Justice Family Courts, the Samoa Victim Support Group and Goshen Trust, depending on the client’s needs and problems.  

F.L.O. looks at all possible areas of conflict within an individual’s life - relationships, parenting, depression, incest, gender based violence, bullying in schools, cyber bulling, violence in schools, violence in the home - which could lead a person to contemplate suicide. Through its outreach programmes and workshops, F.L.O. endeavours to encourage people to seek help and think “life” instead of believing that suicide is the only solution to their problems.

F.L.O. has experienced cases this year that has pushed us beyond our limitations and yet we continue to work towards achieving our vision because we value people, we value life. I would like to briefly mention here a few of our hard core cases in order to illustrate the importance of our work. In the past few years, we have dealt with 3 attempted suicide cases that were rushed to hospital for treatment, sadly a few days later were sent home to die.

Two of them, we helped nurse back to health, from the brink of death, and they are alive and well today. A third was sent home to die and she did, despite our efforts to save her, because she was not accorded the treatment she needed in hospital, simply because she tried to take her own life. Suicide victims are stigmatized and condemned because of their actions.

Who are we to judge them?  We are asked to “love” and help them, God alone is their judge. Another client called to say she was on the verge of committing suicide because her father stopped her from attending N.U.S. because he couldn’t afford her tuition fees.  

One of F.L.O’s board members offered to pay her fees for the year and she is currently attending N.U.S. and passing her exams.                                                                                   

Another client, a mother of 8, had just given birth to her youngest child, 2 weeks later she was forced to go back to work as a gardener to earn money to provide for her children because her husband chose not to work. He opted to stay home with the baby and the young children who were not yet of school age.

She was tired and sick and wanted to die. Abuse in many forms! Another client was beaten to a pulp by her defacto partner because she dared to leave the house. She managed to escape and hide in the plantation and called F.L.O’s Lifeline.  F.L.O. counsellor talked her through her terror then contacted M.O.P. Domestic Violence unit and they picked her up. Her partner was apprehended and is in jail awaiting his court case.  She has returned to her estranged husband and he has forgiven her and taken her back.                                                                                                                    

Another client went to her faifeau for help, because of sexual harassment in her home. She was scolded and sent back to the perpetrator because it was the godly thing to do “ia e ava i lou tama ma lou tina”. She called our Lifeline and after counselling was removed from her abusive environment and placed with extended family.

Another client is a woman who for 10 years was beaten by her husband every day for no apparent reason and he threatened to harm her children if she left the house or told anyone. She finally had the courage to call our Lifeline from a friend’s phone. We immediately went to her home and called the police who took her and her children to the station and then to her parent’s home. The man was arrested at his work place and taken into custody.

Sadly a few days later she withdrew the charges. A month later it happened again, this time she did not withdraw the charges and he is now serving time in prison. These cases are blatant examples of family violence and abuse of the worst kind. These things are happening in Samoa under our very nose, what are we doing about it? What can we do? 

To raise awareness and an outcry against violence and abuse, depression and suicide, Faataua Le Ola in its work plan for 2017 is conducting suicide awareness programmes in colleges, village and church communities around Samoa.

By creating a platform through music, testimonies and creative art we hope to help our people, especially to empower the youth of Samoa and encourage them to place their hopes and dreams in themselves by renewing and strengthening their faith in God for HE alone can uplift and restore a broken spirit and bring light and love to any difficult situation.

FLO is intent on promoting life in all its essence and beauty and deliver a message of hope to the people of Samoa, with the promise of a future filled with blessings through the love of God.                                                                  

Faataua Le Ola has adopted the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” in its literal context by encouraging the people of our nation to work together to bring positive awareness to the issue of suicide and the causes thereof, in the hope that it will help prevent suicidal tendencies in people suffering from depression and/or confronted with the hardships and cruelties of life.

FLO has been an advocate of suicide awareness and prevention in Samoa for the past 17 years.

FLO continues its work today with a strong focus on the youth because they are the most vulnerable and easily swayed, but more importantly they are the future of Samoa.

FLO works to empower them to live a life founded on God and grounded in faith, which is the foundation our forefathers built Samoa’s independence upon “Fa’avae I Le Atua Samoa”.                                                                                                                         

Unfortunately, with each passing year, it is becoming more and more apparent that Samoa is founded on God (the Holy Trinity) in name only. Beneath our professed christianity is a zest pool of filth, deceit, lies, corruption, materialism, power, greed, that begins within the very core of Samoan society, our families, our churches, our villages.

Our people are being saddled with the burden of giving financially to churches, to family faalavelaves and so forth, with monetary contributions that are usually way beyond their means, so they beg, steal or borrow to meet their obligations and have nothing left to feed and clothe their families, let alone pay school fees and bills. And we wonder WHY there is so much family violence, so much abuse, so much depression, so much suicide in Samoa?

Our culture is a beautiful thing and is admired and desired by people all over the world, our children are respectful, our people are friendly and hospitable, but what lies underneath all that?  Our beautiful culture and aga nuu has been abused by greed and the need for power, money and prestige.                                                      

We cannot judge nor put the blame on any one person in our society.  We are all party to this injustice, because we sanction it by not speaking out against it, we do not like to upset the status quo, so we continue on sweeping everything under the  carpet pretending everything is alright or hoping that our problems just might resolve themselves and disappear. Hello Samoa, wake up before it is too late!

We need to get back to basics. We need to clean up Samoa and rid it of materialism and the desires of the flesh and bring God back into our lives, back into Samoa, back into our culture, back into our churches, back into our schools, back into our villages, back into our homes. What is needed is direct communication with God and with His Word, true worship, not lip service on a Sunday and then the rest of the week it is “all about me and my needs wants and desires”.

Men need to be spiritual heads of their families – only then will they earn the respect and obedience of their wives and children that the Bible speaks about. The root of the problem is in broken relationships.  We need to get right first with God (love God /love oneself / love others) then all else will come to pass.

If you are not right with God nothing will be right in your life. Live by His Word, live by His Commandments and the blessings will follow. Then and only then will we realize a happy, peaceful, godly Samoa, which lives by God’s principals “in spirit and in truth”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

FLO would like to see the following measures implemented and realized in the near future as a means of achieving its goal of a Samoa fully empowered to value life: 

*Conduct research on suicidal behavior in Samoa by exploring the trend of suicide and establishing risk and protective factors.

*Explore the impact of family violence on families, culture and religion in Samoa.                                                                                                                                           

*Research the relationship between depression/mental disorders /family violence/suicide.                                                                                                                                           

*Coordinate culturally responsive awareness and prevention measures to reduce family violence and suicide in Samoa.    

In Conclusion: Jesus concerned Himself exclusively with the teaching of general principles, and these general principles always had to do with mental states, for He knew that if one’s mental states are right, everything else must be right too, whereas, if these are wrong, nothing else can be right.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Mankind is slow to realize that there is simply no way of salvation except by changing one’s consciousness, which means trying to do the Will of God consistently in every department of life.We are all willing to do His Will sometimes and in some things, but until there is a complete alignment both in the great and in the small things – a complete dedication of one’s whole self in fact – there cannot be a complete demonstration. As long as we allow “things” to come between us and God, we will never attain full salvation. We will never have everlasting peace. There is no home for the soul in which there dwells the shadow of an untruth.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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