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Domestic violence in the Pacific: what can be done

The Pacific has some of the world’s highest rates of domestic violence. In Fiji, 66% of women experience emotional, physical or domestic violence in their lifetime. This is more than twice the global average. In Solomon Islands, one in two women reported violence by their partners. On average, two out of three Pacific island women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. These women are also more likely to experience more severe forms of such violence. This is a significant problem in the Pacific as well as the world, and one that governments are not taking lightly. In 2012, Pacific island leaders jointly declared the rates of violence against women in the region were “unacceptably high”. They then committed to addressing the issue through legislation and the implementation of health, legal and counselling services. But there remains a long way to go.

Effects of domestic violence

Domestic violence does not only affect women or direct victims, but a wide variety of people. For pregnant women for instance, the effects of domestic violence are particularly severe. In the Pacific, this poses a significant problem. 26% of women in Fiji have been beaten while pregnant, 24% in Samoa, and 8% in Tuvalu. This has devastating physical and mental effects for both the mothers and babies. For children, the repercussions of domestic violence tend to be felt long after they have left school. Studies in the Pacific have shown a strong link between kids’ exposure to violence and intimate partner violence in their adult lives. Those that experience violence during childhood are also more likely to be perpetrators and/or survivors of violence as adults. In general, some of the most common effects of domestic violence include physical injuries (including disability), chronic depression, suicide attempts, an inability to deal with needs of others, and death. The number of people who never seek help for domestic violence is very high, and this is particularly true in the Pacific. Women suffer silently because they feel embarrassed or that no one can help them, so the majority of violence goes unreported to the authorities. It is important to remember that there exist a number of options for these victims.

Options for support

One of the simplest options for support is to talk to someone. This could be a relative, friend, neighbour or colleague. It can sometimes be difficult to ask for help, but it is important to remember that no one deserves to be abused. These people can help even if it just means having someone to listen, or preferably who can advise you on how to move forward. Other options include speaking to health services, counselling, religious leaders, lawyers, the police or women’s groups. In Fiji, the Prime Minister recently launched a domestic violence hotline, where women and children can call for free to receive counselling and assistance. The number is 1560.