Address to Fijian parliamentarians on domestic violence (28-29 January 2016)

By Justice Stephen Pallaras QC, South Australia's former director of public prosecutions and more recently justice of the High Court in the Solomon Islands

GOOD MORNING LADY, quickly bring plenty drink come house eat go little village toilet goodbye

May be useful. Don’t know.

Depends upon whether an OPPORTUNITY to use those words presents itself.

The knowledge of the words is useless without the opportunity. And having an opportunity is useless without the knowledge, without the tools.

OPPORTUNITY is what I want to talk to you about.

To be the best in the Pacific when dealing with DM

Why the best?

Because most other countries in this area are terrible at it.

New Guinea probably worst, Solomon Islands shocking. New Zealand progressive – Family Protection Court. Fiji?

During my time in court and during the 40 years of practice in the criminal law, I have heard all the excuses. Some will say its traditional, cultural, we’ve always done it this way.

Some men have told me I have the right to beat my wife, have sex with her, I have paid the BRIDE PRICE and therefore she is mine. Other men have told me that they are entitled to have sex with my daughter because I am the man.

4 stories from S.I.

#1

Father charged with raping two daughters.

Excuse – I brought them up, this is my payment.

#2

Uncle sees niece talking to a boy from another village.

Knife, cuts her hair, sexually assaults her. Excuse -Teach her a lesson.

#3

Young girl 12 raped by her father. In giving her ev I asked if she complained to anyone. Mum. Mother called. Beat her daughter. Excuse – Brought husband’s name into disrepute.

#4

Man walks past his brothers hut in a village. Knows the brother is out working and that his brother’s daughter is being looked after by the grandmother. He goes in finds the grandmother sleeping, and takes the opportunity to have  intercourse with the daughter. Two things – 1. He had aids and he knew it, and 2. The girls was 3 years old. (2 years for indecent assault and 14 years for defilement).

Whether it’s the beetle nut, the beer, the gunja, the heat, archaic, distorted sense of values that are applied, THERE’S ALWAYS AN EXCUSE.

One father told me that in his village it was totally culturally acceptable for a husband to beat his wife or have sex with his daughters. EVEN IF THAT WAS RIGHT ONCE, YEARS AGO IN ANOTHER AGE, ITS NOT NOW. NO CHIEF OR VILLAGE ELDER HAS EVER SUPPORTED THAT EXCUSE.

But even if it was right in the past, so what? There was a time when cannibalism and eating your enemy was right and culturally acceptable. Not now. Why?

Because a culture is organic, it grows, develops and changes. It changes with knowledge, it changes with education and it changes with the change in the needs and expectations of a developing society.

Its not only in this part of the world where women have been treated as second class. I come from a European background – male child always traditionally valued higher. Look at the Chinese nation.

Hundreds of cultures, peoples, languages, traditions, religions on the planet. There are people who are black white yellow olive pink red and brown.

These things and others make us all different, differentiate us from one another, give us a sense of our history where we come from and who we are.

But of all the many things that separate us, there are many which bind us.

The number one factor that we have in common that binds us together on this blue planet, is our HUMANITY.

All of us are born with inalienable rights that no-one can give to you nor can anyone take them away. They are yours by virtue of the fact that you are human, they are part of the package. The right to food and shelter, good health, safety, the right to not be shot knifed raped or bashed.

Not one set for males and one for females.

So if that’s right, why is it that in S.I. a national study found “an alarming level of sexual violence”?

Why did 55% of women interviewed aged between 15 – 49 reveal that they had experienced sexual violence from their partner – the most common form being rape?

Why did 37% of women report that they had been sexually abused when they were UNDER THE AGE OF 15? ONE CHILD IN THREE. The majority (53%) said that the abuse had occurred more than 3 times – habitual.

As I said in New Guinea it is worse, and there are problems in every other Pacific nation, including in my country.

This is a multi-faceted problem that is bewitched by the letter ‘P’. The letter P defines both the problem and the solution.

START:

PARENTS: - EXPERIENCE AT S.I. SCHOOLS attitude of both boys and girls reinforces prejudice

POLICE: - ATTITUDE TO VICTIMS, INVESTIGATIVE SKILLS, VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS, WITNESS STATEMENTS

PROSECUTION: - DIFFICULT TO PROSECUTE. TRAUMATISED VICTIMS, EMBARASSED WITNESSES. NEED SKILL AND TRAINING TO GET THE STORY OUT WITHIN THE CONFINES OF THE LAWS PARTICULARLY LAWS OF EVID AND PROCEDURE.

PUNISHMENT – ONUS ON THE COURTS. RAPE PUNISHABLE BY LIFE!

PERPETRATORS – HAVE TO LEARN CONSEQUENCES SERIOUS

POTENTIAL PERPETRATORS – UNDERSTAND WHAT WILL HAPPEN – EXPERIENCE IN S.I. RE GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT TO VILLAGE/CHURCH/SCHOOL TALKS.

2 BIGGEST ‘P’ problems I’ve left till last.

Parliament – has to provide the courts with the ammunition and appropriate penalties in legislation.

In this regard, Fiji has developed some useful legislation including the Crimes decree and the Domestic Violence Decree both of which I’ve had the opportunity to peruse. So the tools or at least some tools are there to be used. There is in this country a clear opportunity to use them.

And that brings me to the next and final “P” which I see as the biggest problem.

The biggest ‘P’ problem is Politicians.

I said at the beginning, that I wanted to talk to you about opportunity, this is what I meant. You have the opportunity, because of your positions, because you are here, to influence to guide, to establish your country as one of the leaders not only in the Pacific, but in the world. You’re not in the positions you are in because of your looks, you’re not there to make things better for yourselves, you are there as you know to SERVE, to DO, not just to think or even just to say, but to DO. And what is obvious is that a consciousness of the problem is growing. The realisation that a great number of half of the planet’s population is mistreated, is dawning on everyone, particularly men.

The greatness of a country some believe, can be defined by its economy, or the size of its military or its inventiveness or its sporting ability. The true MEASURE of a country’s greatness is how we treat each other as human beings. A measure of a leader’s effectiveness, of a politician’s commitment and integrity, is NOT what they say. – how do you tell if a politician is lying? Its can never be what they think or say. You will leave your mark on this nation, if you leave a mark, by what you DO.

SO THE QUESTION IS - WHAT HAVE YOU DONE SO FAR?

If your answer is I’ve thought about the problem – then you’ve done very little.

If your answer is that I’ve spoken about the problem – then you’ve done very little.

And if you’ve done nothing THEN THIS MAKES YOU A BIG PART OF THE PROBLEM.

If you can say to yourself that I have done these 2,3,4,or more things then you’ve got an answer.

So what do you do?

  1.      Educate yourself as to the nature of the problem. How many women in your area have been subjected to domestic violence? How many children?
  2.      What has happened to their cases?
  3. What support have they received – what medical assistance, what treatment, what domestic assistance, what counselling, what psychological or even psychiatric support has been offered to them?
  4.      What are their living conditions like now? Still with their abuser?
  5.      What has happened to the children? Are they still at home? Were they abused and hurt? Have they had treatment, counselling, protection?
  6.      What facilities are available in your area for the protection of women and children who are beaten by their husbands?
  7.      Educate yourself about how much money has been allocated to DV and how it is being used? Who controls the money and is it being used effectively? “How would I know?” ASK, DO.
  8.      After you have educated yourself, then question yourself. What is my attitude to DV? What do I think of men who bash their wives? Do I use DV in my own home? The big questions – WHAT I HAVE DONE ABOUT IT? WHAT MORE CAN I DO? ASK.
  9.      After you have educated yourself and questioned yourself about your contribution to the solution of this terrible crime, the next thing to do is question the contribution of others involved in this area. Have my colleagues done anything or done enough?

Are the police in my area doing their job? Are women victims being taken seriously, listened to, protected? Do the police know how to help? Can they take proper victim and witness statements that will help the victim if it goes to court?

Is the DPP and his prosecutors doing the right thing by victims? In other words, are cases being taken to court appropriately and are the prosecutors being given the skills necessary to prosecute these always fraught and difficult cases? Are the police prosecutors up to task of presenting cases intelligently in the lower courts?

Now I know some of you might be thinking what is he talking about, I’m far too busy to get involved in all of that. It’s inconvenient. And you know right there, is the nub of the problem. Its precisely that attitude that has enabled and even encouraged men to get away with treating women like second rate human beings for so long. If you don’t get involved, nothing will change and long after you have left office and your successors take your place, someone else will be talking to them about what they can do about DV. We (you and me) are all temporary bit players in our communities – but men and women, husbands and wives, mothers, fathers and children are forever.

Some of you men, might be thinking or, even worse, saying, it’s a woman’s problem. Please think again.

This is not a woman’s problem except in so far as they are the one’s who get the broken noses, or the broken arms, or the torn vaginas or the bruised necks.

It is just as much a child’s problem because they see the violence in the house, they hear their mother crying for hours and they hear their father screaming and bashing their mother. We know that the basis of any civilised community and in this beautiful country, is the family and a family in violent turmoil is no basis for any country to grow or build a future.

But even more than that, it is a man’s problem. Because men are the perpetrators. They are the ones, they are the cowards, they are the drunkards, the bullies, who bash the women. They are the ones who will go to jail. They are the ones who will no longer be able to fulfil their responsibilities as husbands, as fathers and as citizens of this country – a country that needs its able bodied men working and contributing to the national wealth and to the common good.

So, the individual woman, wife or mother suffers. The children suffer. The man, husband, or father suffers. The family suffers and as a result, the nation goes backwards.

Don’t tell me it’s not your problem. Don’t tell me it’s a women’s problem. It is a national problem about which the citizens are entitled to look to and expect their leaders to be working their absolute hardest to resolve and moreover it is a human problem.

Now the S.I. government made great fanfare over the fact that after a very long period of time gathering dust, Parliament finally passed the Family Protection Bill into the Family Protection Act. This set out a number of new offences and procedures in the legislation.

All very well.

But this is where the lesson is for parliamentarians present.

Without the will to allocate financial resources to set up the womens’ shelters, the safe houses for children and their mothers, the financial aid that they will need to survive, to get medical treatment, to get help from social workers, psychologists and if necessary psychiatrists to help them recuperate and recover from their, what can sometimes be years of torture and mistreatment, all of the fine sentiments in all of the legislation, don’t mean a thing.  

Without the political will to DO something we are wasting our time. DOING IS A QUANTUM LEAP FROM IMAGINING.

The scale and dimensions of this problem are not simply personal, they are financial, they are social, they are national, they are international and more, they are human. It will take people with leadership, vision and courage. Are you one of them?

Harry S Truman once said -

“Men and women make history, not the other way round. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skilful, leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

I implore you to be those leaders, not just managers. They say that management is doing things right, but leadership is doing the right things. 

THAT’S why I spoke earlier of opportunity. That’s why it is such an opportunity for you. You are in the lucky and very privileged position of being able to influence the direction of your people and your nation. DO something, act, initiate, lead.

Your countrymen and women will thank you for it, your children and future generations will thank you for it, your country will thank you for it, and you, will sleep better at night. Vinaka.



SPC’s Regional Rights Resource Team receives core funding from the Australian Government and additional project support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Pacific Leadership Programme (PLP), European Union (EU) and the German Development Bank (KfW).