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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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* Warning this story contains distressing content. The names of the people involved have been changed to protect their identities.

Regina was 14 years old when she was sexually abused by a man in his 50s. He lured her with an equivalent of $215 to a hotel room in Port Moresby.

She left the room, distraught and alone, and feeling helpless. She needed the money to make ends meet and desperately wanted to finish school. When both her parents passed away, her older sister had neglected her.

The abuse continued on the weekends for three years. Each time, Regina was given money and made to promise she would not tell anyone.

Her school grades dropped, and she lost her appetite and her confidence. Eventually, she lost hope.

When Regina has flashbacks, she thinks of taking her own life. She had felt like there was no reason for living anymore.

It was only when staff from ChildFund’s 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain and Rights Respect and Resilience project visited her school that things changed.

The staff encouraged students to call the helpline if they encountered any violence, negligence or any form of abuse in their life.

For the first time in a long time, Regina felt a glimmer of hope. After the visit she called the hotline.

A counsellor named Joe answered, and Regina found herself in tears. It had been three years and it was only now that she finally felt safe to tell someone about all the pain she was carrying.

Joe affirmed her confidentiality and provided crisis counselling.

“I realised I had to help Regina externalise the problem and value her life and education,” Joe said.

“We discussed the importance of her health and I told her about her legal rights and provided information on referral pathways that were available to her.”

Counsellors at ChildFund’s 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain have been helping thousands of survivors of abuse, violence and neglect, like Regina, for three years. The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is Papua New Guinea’s first free national counselling helpline.

After Regina’s initial call, Joe checked on Regina every week and provided more counselling. He encouraged her to report the matter to police and to change her sim card so the perpetrator could no longer reach her.

Today, Regina is focused on finishing her studies and hopeful about her future.

The counselling helped her escape the abuse and recover emotionally, and is grateful for the hotline’s service and Joe’s commitment to helping turn her life around.

If you are in Papua New Guinea and need to talk to someone, call:

  • 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain (toll-free) 7150 8000

If you are in Australia:

To mark International Day of Non-Violence, ChildFund has released a new report highlighting the vital support that its gender-based violence hotline is providing to women and families in Papua New Guinea.

PNG experiences some of the worst statistics for violence against women in the world. While reliable data is scarce, it is estimated that more than two thirds of women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Human Rights Watch estimates that 70 percent of women experience rape or assault in their lifetime, and in research carried out with men in PNG’s Bougainville, 62 percent of men reported having perpetrated rape against a female.

In 2015, ChildFund PNG and its partners established the country’s first ever Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Hotline – 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain. As well as telephone counselling and safety planning, counsellors provide information and referrals to a wide range of gender-based violence (GBV) service providers and face-to-face counselling services including police, medical services, safe houses and legal support.

In emergency cases, counsellors can talk to the police on the client’s behalf, then call the survivor back to assure her that help is on the way. The hotline is available nationally and offers callers three languages – English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu.

In PNG, where services are scarce (87 percent of the population of PNG live in rural and remote areas) but where mobile phone ownership is high, a telephone counselling service is critical. In fact, for survivors and perpetrators living in remote areas, telephone counselling is the only accessible intervention.

In the two years since its launch, the hotline has received calls from around 8,000 women, men and children. Analysis of call data in 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain: A report on the first two years of operation has found that:

  • family and sexual violence, followed by relationship issues and child welfare concerns are the top presenting issues for callers;
  • in more than half of the calls relating to incidents of GBV, the perpetrator was an intimate partner; and
  • one-quarter of all callers were provided with crisis counselling and safety planning.

Interestingly, almost half (48%) of the calls to the hotline are from males. This is because men in PNG are typically less likely than women to seek help, reflecting stereotypical gender roles. As such, the hotline provides an anonymous service to men seeking help.

In Maryanne’s case, the hotline provided a life-saving service when she was threatened with violence by her partner. Counsellor Grace used the 1-Tok Helpim Lain’s service provider database to find the number of the nearest Police Station. The police arrived within 15 minutes, escorted Maryanne to safety and apprehend her husband. In the days following the event, Grace provided ongoing counselling, helping Maryanne with a range of options to improve the situation for her and her children.

With increased promotion of the service across the country, calls to the 1-Tok Helpim Lain are increasing and the helpline will continue to play a critical role in answering calls for help, providing counselling and making referrals to a range of services.

The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain – 7150 8000 – provides toll-free confidential telephone counselling, information and support for anyone experiencing gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. ChildFund PNG is the lead implementing partner of the service, working in close partnership with the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee and FHI 360. The service is funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), with contributions from ChildFund Australia and ChildFund New Zealand.