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PNG phone counsellors saving lives

WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS CONTENT THAT MAY BE UPSETTING.

It was October 12, 2015, two months after the ‘1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain’ phone counselling service was launched in Port Moresby. A female caller from Lae rang 715-08000, the national freecall hotline number. Her violent husband had just stabbed her father and also attacked her mother.

The phone counsellor who took the call quickly provided initial crisis counselling and stayed on the phone. With permission from the caller, two other counsellors tried contacting local organisations, the police, family support agencies and the nearest hospital.

Calls to these organisations rang out so the counsellors contacted a local security firm. A senior guard on call contacted his team nearest to the location to assist.

The father was rushed to the hospital by security guard vehicle. The perpetrator fled the scene.

“The client asked me if she could give some water to her father as he was losing too much blood,” recalled the counsellor. “I told her not to give him water but tell the victim to swallow his saliva instead.

“I had to put picture to words and put every skill I learned on first aid by guiding the client who also advised the men who were helping her bleeding father. I told the client if the victim drinks water he will lose more blood, which could kill him.

“The next day I followed up with the client. Her parents were treated and admitted at the hospital. The wounds sustained by the client’s father were closed with eight stitches.

“I also planned to assist the client by reporting the matter to police, however, conditions did not allow. The client feared reporting the matter could put her in more danger,” the counsellor said.

A counsellor assisting a client at the ‘1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain’ call centre in Port Moresby.

This caller was one of 2,576 people who sought help through the phone counselling service in its first year, with 1,653 calls resulting in counselling sessions and referrals.

“It was fortunate someone in the community had learned about the hotline number and provided it to the client to ask for help during the incident,” the counsellor noted.

Follow-up calls recorded in detail the causes of the case and a plan of action going forward. The woman is now separated from her violent husband.

“When she rang the hotline again a few months later, I provided crisis counselling and assisted the client to come up with a safety plan to protect her,” the counsellor said.

“She needed to build her relationship with her family because that is her strength. I told her, you are very brave and strong to escape that violent life. You need your family to help you, and we can help you.”

Accessing primary care services is a major challenge faced by survivors of family and sexual violence in PNG. Teamwork between the counsellors and service providers is vital and can save lives.

The hotline is the first service in PNG to have professional counsellors available 12 hours a day from 7am to 7pm, providing survivors and their families with an immediate and comprehensive support package that includes access to information, referral to nearby service providers, and personal and confidential counselling at the time of call. The service is available in PNG’s three national working languages – English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu.

The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is a partnership between ChildFund Papua New Guinea, CIMC (FSVAC) and FHI 360, supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme, USAID, ChildFund New Zealand and ChildFund Australia. 

*Names and details of clients and counsellors withheld or amended to protect privacy and confidentiality.

If this story has raised issues for you or someone you know, you can call these numbers for help:

  • Australia’s national domestic violence helpline: 1800 737 732 or 1800RESPECT. In an emergency call triple-zero.
  • Papua New Guinea’s national domestic violence helpline (1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain): 715-08000

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