In search of services to address family and sexual violence in Lae communities

A poster inside the Seventh Day Adventist Church building in Lae. Photo Credit: Michelle N Rooney

Australian government funded research conducted in Lae in Papua New Guinea explored the connections between women’s experiences of seeking support to address family and sexual violence in their lives, and their children’s wellbeing and opportunities for education. The findings highlight the multiple financial and social considerations that prevent women from seeking help from the formal justice system.

Researchers from the Australian National University, UNITECH and the University of Papua New Guinea collaborated to interview 500 women in focus groups through church and local communities.  Findings suggest there are multiple financial and social considerations that limit women’s ability to seek certain types of assistance.

The research included a large number of women with extremely low incomes and educational levels.  Their experiences highlighted the gap between formal systems of support and the reality of dealing with violence for low-income families.  The violence experienced by these women is characteristed by cycles of poverty, marital breakdown and chronic violence.  Many women support others at the same time as dealing with violence themselves.  In these families, children often drop out of school because of the immediate and longer-term impact of family and sexual violence in their homes.  The research revealed the critical role played by non-formal networks in assisting survivors of violence, including family members, neighbours, other survivors, schools and churches.

The researchers also looked at the economic reasons preventing women from seeking support, particularly from the state.  Many of these costs are related to their ability to provide for their children’s housing, food, education and other basic needs. Women are hesitant to engage with the justice system for fear of losing family income if their partners are sentenced to jail. Obtaining medical reports and time spent waiting at police stations and courts can result in a substantial loss of income for women from their informal market activities. Other costs include being asked to pay the police for fuel or other enticements before they will attend a domestic violence incident.

Interviewees further identified a fear that the violence will worsen if the formal justice process is unsuccessful. Most responses suggested that there is a need to improve information about the processes and access to police and other services.

Many women interviewed acknowledged improvements in police responsiveness in Lae, including the introduction of the tollfree phone number and the positive role of police in de-escalating episodes of violence.  The police in Lae are proceeding in line with women’s wishes in determining how to proceed with their complaints. This approach prioritises a woman’s decision about her and her children’s safety, taking into account a myriad of financial and non-financial considerations. The researchers argue that the introduction of a ‘no drop policy’ (as has occurred elsewhere in the Pacific) would not enable such women’s agency and may have unintended consequences, such as dissuading women from seeking this valuable support from the police.

For more on the research, read the DevPolicy blog here:

The Australian Government supports efforts to address family and sexual violence through the Pacific Women and the Justice Services and Stability for Development Program (JSS4D). The Pacific Women and JSS4D partners in Lae and other priority provinces focus on increasing survivors’ access to law and justice services and strengthening referral pathways to medical, psychosocial, protection and other essential services.