Around 46 per cent of Samoan women who have been in a relationship say they have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse by their partner, according to figures published by the United Nations.
In a culture where family reputation is highly valued, women are reluctant to report crimes. As a result, victims of domestic violence find little support within their families, leaving them isolated and trapped in an abusive environment. When a girl or woman does speak up about being abused, families prefer to go the traditional route. Forgiveness ceremonies are arranged in village councils, where the families of the offender and the victim are brought together to resolve the issue away from the police and the courts. There may be a fine or an apology, but no formal charge or conviction.
SVSG was set up by a young lawyer frustrated at the lack of support for victims of gender-based violence. She brought together former police officers and legal professionals to provide support and counselling for survivors. It has reached over 25,000 people and is the only organisation of its kind in Samoa.
SVSG helps refer cases to the police and offers counselling to survivors in a private setting. Members of SVSG will also accompany survivors to court to ensure they have company during this scary and often intimidating process.
The organisation also offers secured temporary accommodation while it works on rehabilitation, recovery and reintegration. An alternative school system helps children who cannot read transition into formal schooling.
Girls are heavily involved in the design and implementation of SVSG’s programmes, as well as in monitoring and evaluation. SVSG has garnered the trust of many community leaders. It works for the goal of violence-free families, where women feel safe and heard, in line with SVSG’s motto that “We Support, We Help, We Care, We are Your Family”.
Photos: Alexia Rae