3 Aug 2020

Domestic violence on the rise in Tonga

6:34 am on 3 August 2020

By Kalafi Moala

Domestic violence has become one of the most common law infringements in Tonga over the past five years.

The Central Police Station in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa.

The Central Police Station in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa. Photo: RNZI/Gareth Thomas

Acting Police Commissioner Tevita Vailea told a local Press Club event that between January and June this year there were 537 domestic violence cases reported, with 117 Police Safety Orders issued, although there were only 99 prosecutions.

Vailea could not put a number on the cases that may have been unreported, but it has often been said the majority of incidents fit that category.

The acting Commissioner said there needed to be co-operative efforts involving the community and the police to break the cycle of domestic violence.

"We have a responsibility to our future generations to break the cycle of violence," he said.

"The home should be a place of peace that children want to come home to, not stay away because of the fear of violence."

"Domestic violence is an offence in Tonga, and Tonga Police urge people to report it to allow them to prosecute perpetrators and bring them to account."

Sexual violence against women and girls also appears to have worsened with soaring levels of sexual assault and rape.

Recently there have been rape cases before the courts each week, even during the Covid-19 lockdown.

'Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki

Photo: RNZI/Koro Vaka'uta

During the the first 15 days of lockdown there was an average of eight cases of domestic violence reported to the Women and Children Crisis Centre each day.

Centre Director, 'Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki, also told the Press Club in Nuku'alofa that for the last five years they had handled 1718 unique cases.

"But 85 percent of women who have suffered domestic violence are repeat victims, who continue to return to the same environment where they have suffered abuse," she said.

"This is why we had to deal with over 5000 repeat cases of domestic violence."

Guttenbeil Likiliki answered in the affirmative when asked whether there may have been more cases of domestic violence that do not seek help from her centre.

But why is there such an increase in domestic violence, sexual assault and rape in Tonga?

Guttenbeil-Likiliki was asked if she thought the "Tongan nature" was violent.

"I do not think so, no more than any other people in any culture," she answered.

"But, the chief problem we have found in counselling is that it is normal for most Tongan men to think that socially, they are in a position of power in the home, and they have entitlements, which include other members of the family carrying out, without question, what they want."

According to those who have worked to break the cycle of domestic violence, mostly committed by men, there needed to be a mindset change, an attitude change in men, as they did not have any rights whatsoever to assault their family members, either physically or psychologically.

What about the law? Are the laws of Tonga adequate to deal with this growing problem?

Commissioner Vailea said the Family Protection Act provided the police with the necessary powers to protect victims of domestic violence and prosecute offenders.

However he emphasised that the police relied on "the community to report crimes against women and children, particularly those committed in the home environment."

"It is the courage of victims coming forward and condemning violence in the home environment that allows police to do their job and send a message to the community that perpetrators of domestic violence will be prosecuted," he said.

Domestic and Family Violence. Little Girl in Fear of Domestic Abuse.

Photo: 123RF

Whatever approach is needed, the reality is, a crisis is happening in this religiously-charged country in regards to domestic violence, and as yet there is still little being done to combat the problem.

But for now, there seems to be an overwhelming agreement among those attempting to tackle the problem, that it would take a multi-faceted approach, employing the spiritual, social, educational, and police enforcement, to help save the Tongan home.