BREAKING NEWS: The Papua New Guinea Government has unanimously passed the Family Protection Bill making domestic violence a criminal offence in Papua New Guinea. Thank you to everyone who has supported our #stopviolencePNG campaign – you helped make this happen.
City Mission Haus Ruth is a refuge in Port Moresby where up to 30 women and children live while they await protective police action. Women come from all over Papua New Guinea to stay here, many of them are from rural areas.
I recently spent time at Haus Ruth speaking to women who asked us to record their stories. One of these women was Amanda, she is in her mid-twenties and has a tiny svelte frame. Her voice and face are so gentle.
Amanda`s story reminds me how brave women are to stand up to violence. Family and sexual violence is incredibly horrific because it is insidious, it takes women by surprise and it is ruthless and relentless. Leaving violent partners is truly heroic, and women genuinely fear for their lives.
Amanda (like many other women we spoke with) asked relatives to take her children and keep them safe whilst she tried to escape. It was a consistent story that when mothers were assaulted, their children were too. Particularly when women ran for their lives, many women described returning to find their children injured.
Amanda was subjected to brutal physical and sexual assaults by her husband. “He used a rubber hose, he whipped me at the back and he used a screwdriver, the really long one. He said he would make me paralysed. I was really injured. When he bashed me up he didn`t leave me alone. He had sexual penetration with me again without my consent. I was really in pain.”
Fearing for her life, Amanda left her husband and reported him to the police. He was arrested. When the case made it to court the judge told her that he would have been sentenced to 15 years but because she didn`t have a medical certificate he was released and the case was dismissed. Amanda did not have a medical certificate because they cost 20 Kina (about $10) and at the time she did not have enough money to pay for it.
After being released by the court, Amanda`s husband found her and brutally assaulted her again. When she returned to the police station, the officer in charge was really sad to see the state that she was in. Amanda is now waiting for her case to be heard, and this time she has a medical certificate. I have so much admiration for her.
Amanda explains, “I used to read those pamphlets that say when your husband beats you, it is a crime. I came to one that said when your husband asks you to have sex with him and you say you don`t want to, that is rape. When I read that I said that is true.
“The message has to go out to women. When you say no and he forces you to have sexual intercourse, this is rape. When I read that pamphlet I got confident and I took my husband to the court.”
When Amanda spoke about the power of reading about her rights in a pamphlet, I was blown away. Something so cheap and simple can change someone`s life and give them strength. When people don`t have access to information through television, radio, newspapers or internet, they can be unaware of their rights and also that other women face similar battles for survival. Without this knowledge they lack the confidence to assert their rights. This is why sharing stories and making information easily accessible is so acutely important.
Amanda finishes telling her story by saying, “I feel proud to tell the other ladies, there is the law to protect us. If your husband mistreats you, you have to take them to the court.” I feel proud just to be in the presence of such an incredible person as Amanda.
Diana Mason travelled to Papua New Guinea with freelance journalist Heather Wiseman and photojournalist Vlad Sokhin to document the stories of women and children affected by violence. Heather won the Health Journalist of the Year Award from the Press Council of Australia and used her award money to travel to Papua New Guinea. Vlad Sokhin is a human rights activist and has a photo project called Crying Meri that documents violence against women in Papua New Guinea. He has worked with BBC, United Nations, Amnesty and Women Arise PNG to highlight this issue.