Pela* grew up with her little sister in one of the outer islands. They moved to the main island when their mother married a man in Tongatapu. Pela is 13 and her sister is 11. They don’t go to school. Pela and her sister stayed home with their mum and stepfather. The plantation was being looked after by their stepfather. After a few months in Tongatapu, their stepfather’s behaviour changed. He always asked Pela to go to the plantation with him where he raped her. She was very scared and could not call for help, because he told her if she said a word he would kill her. He threatened to do the same to her little sister if she told anyone. So she stayed silent. Pela lived in fear for months, and found out her stepfather was doing the same to her little sister. They were both very scared of him, and they didn’t know how to tell their mum. Pela’s mum found out after a woman who was having an affair with her husband told her that she knew what he had been doing with the daughters. Pela’s mum was shocked and asked the girls if it was true. They told her everything that he had done.
Pela’s mum went straight to WCCC to seek help. The Counsellor told them about WCCC’s services including the police officer stationed at the centre, and they filed a statement at the WCCC office. The 2 girls stayed at the Safehouse for a few months until their court hearing. All the staff of the WCCC worked together with the Police Department for the safety of these two sisters. The stepfather was arrested and pleaded guilty. He died while in prison waiting for sentencing. The family moved back to the outer island. The Centre is still in contact with them to provide ongoing counselling.
*The name of the client have been changed to protect the clients’ identity.
The client is 18 years old and lives in Tongatapu. She lived with her partner for 2 years before marrying him, and it was not until they got married that her husband started abusing her both verbally and physically. She had also suspected that her husband was having affairs. After the birth of their first child her husband beat her up badly. She reported this to the police. It was settled with a brief council by the police and the Magistrate, and as a result her husband was pardoned by the court. But sadly the beatings continued, and from the experience she had with the police and the court, she lost faith in attempting to report again. One day she could not handle it anymore and she came to the WCCC for help. She received counselling and was housed in the safe house. She was relieved when the Magistrate put her husband on a suspended sentence. She felt this enabled her to return home to a safe environment: “If my husband returns to his violent ways at least I have the suspended order on record – so the police can’t pretend anymore that they don’t have anything on file – and the next time we appear in court he will get a much more serious sentence. If that happens, it is proof to me that he wasn’t serious about changing, and so I will consider a divorce.”
At the beginning of the year the WCCC worked closely with a young married mother, who came to the Centre seeking help after being raped by a Police Officer. She is married with 2 children and her much older husband is a drug-user who physically, sexually and emotionally abused her. When she first came to WCCC she felt helpless and found it difficult to place her trust in anyone. She felt she couldn’t talk to anybody and knew that her own family were working closely with her husband to victimise her. She was in a state of shock, extremely nervous and afraid and found it extremely challenging to describe what had happen to her.
Over several counselling sessions, the Counsellor helped her to consider her options. The main challenge with this case was that she refused to speak with any police because she had lost trust in them following the rape and ongoing harassment. After some time, she agreed for WCCC to arrange a meeting with the Police Commissioner, who encouraged her to write a police statement so that the appropriate steps and procedures could be taken. She decided to do so, but refused to speak to any other police, and was assisted with preparing an affidavit by WCCC and had it sworn in at the court registry. The Police have not accepted the affidavit as sufficient and have asked WCCC to work with the client to get her to take a statement with the assigned police officer. She has refused to do so but is still receiving follow up communications from her case counsellor to ensure that if and when she is ready, WCCC will be ready to continue supporting her.
The client thought she was in a hopeless situation because she was living in Tonga, which was a foreign country for her. She felt rejected by her husband who had brought her here. She described her life as being a second class citizen in their marriage. Her husband was on a well-paid salary but she was given little or no funds for herself or their child, who was born in Tonga. He would refuse to give her any money and would often make her beg for it. She also had limited contact with people like friends, family and neighbours because her husband stopped her from communicating with them. She eventually found out that her husband was having an affair with his co-worker. After she approached him about it, he contacted an immigration officer to request that they revoke her visa so she could be deported back to her country. She was shocked to receive a letter from the Immigration Office stating that her visa was going to be revoked and that she had to leave the country. He planned for her to leave their daughter with him, while having his wife deported. She confided in a neighbour, fearing the worst. The neighbour referred her to the WCCC.
“I felt so relieved when I came in for my first visit. I thanked God that he sent me to the right people. I was told by my husband that the immigration officer would come and remove me from Tonga on the first flight out on the following day. WCCC contacted their counterpart overseas, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre to see if they could help out in this case. The assistance provided by the WCCC through the FWCC was financial support to urgently appoint a lawyer to prevent my removal and to prevent my separation from my 3 year old daughter. I eventually filed for divorce, custody and maintenance.” The client has now returned to her home country with her daughter.
The client is a 34 year old woman living in Tongatapu. Her husband had continuously beaten and abused her during their married life. At one time her husband even slashed her with a knife. He was a very possessive man. She had previously been beaten with a glass bottle and as a result she and her husband were always in and out of court. She had reported most beatings to the police but since her husband had many good friends at the police station, her cases always seemed like a lost cause. Each time they appeared in court, the Police Prosecutor would have no previous files on her husband, so the Magistrate would always sentence him as if it were the first time he appeared before the court.
Finally she heard of the WCCC and after one brutal beating she escaped and found refuge at the centre. She received immediate counselling and advocacy support. This time, her Counsellor Advocate and the Police Officer stationed at WCCC ensured that her husband’s previous files were presented in court. However, the court again failed this victim because it took into consideration a plea from a church leader regarding the perpetrator’s character and his attempt to seek counselling.
The WCCC is continuing to provide counselling to the client, and will monitor and document closely the attitude and behaviour of the perpetrator through the counselling process.
“I am a 31 year old woman. On 10th of May 2014, my partner assaulted me with a knife (machete). After only one week of living with my partner (in another country) he started to beat me up twice a week or once a week, whether he was sober or drunk. But I forgave him every time – because I loved him, he is the father of my son. After 4 months of beatings I went to the police station for help. I was tired of my partner’s bad behaviour and beating me all the time. The Court issued a Protection Order for him to stay away from me. I told him that we are finished, and please just leave me alone. I wanted my life to move on, but he was still begging for another chance.
On Saturday morning I was at work. I was so shocked when I saw my partner standing in front of the building. He was lighting his smoke, and the knife was placed in front of his pants. I could easily see it. When I saw him I ran towards my workplace, and he ran after me. I tried to lock the door but I wasn’t strong enough. He forced his way in, and he hit me with the knife. I do not know how he cut my legs and my hands because I was trying to defend myself. The only thing I remember was when I fell down on to the floor, and he tried to cut my neck, and I whispered in his ear that I am pregnant. Then he just stood up and walked outside with nothing to say, not even a word. I do not know how many times he hit me with me with the knife. I stood up and ran outside calling for help. The blood was all over my clothes but I stopped a taxi and asked the driver to please take me to the hospital.
I was in hospital for 15 days because of my injuries. The Police arrested him and put him in prison until our court hearing. I left hospital to go to a shelter for my safety while the police were investigating what happened. I wanted to go back to Tonga to see my family. The shelter staff didn’t listen or care. The workers and the boss of the shelter started blaming me for what happened. They told me that there’s no way for me to return back home and that I have to stay and face the court. Every day I felt like a prisoner with no voice. I felt unhealthy and lonely with no one on my side.
When I got to use one of the staff’s phone, I called my parents first and asked him to find a way to help me to get out from this country and come home. My father went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who referred him to the Women and Children Crisis Centre and asked for help. One of the counsellors from the WCCC came all the way from Tonga to see me and also help me if I needed anything.* I felt happy that I am alive. The shelter boss started to get angry because she didn’t want me to leave. But it was my choice, and the WCCC said they would support whatever choice I make. The next morning I made my decision and I told the shelter I was leaving, but that I would come back for the court hearing. I returned for the hearing with the counsellor for support. My ex-partner pleaded guilty. He hasn’t been sentenced yet. I still go to see the WCCC counsellor for counselling.
Without the help of the Women and Children Crisis Centre I don’t know what would’ve happened to me. I would like to say a big thanks to all the staff for their work. The centre works 100% for the victim and her needs. They also work together with the Women Crisis Centre in Fiji by networking. For you who need help with your problems please contact them, they will open their heart for you.”
*Funds for WCCC’s counsellor to travel to the other country and bring the client home were provided from FWCC’s own fund-raising.
The client had grown up in the USA and was deported to Tonga. The people living on her family land rejected her and judged her because she had many tattoos and was raised in a very different culture. She became very isolated and couldn’t find a home to take her in, and fell into a violent relationship. When she left the relationship, she was pregnant. No one in Tonga was willing to give her support due to her background, appearance, and reputation for having “slept around”. Finally, her father’s distant relative who lived nearby offered to look after the baby while she looked for work. Her family then tried to get custody of the baby, and with assistance from another local organisation they had her declared mentally unfit. When she first came to WCCC she was feeling totally powerless. WCCC treated her as an equal and did not pass judgement on her on the basis of her appearance. She was supported by Counsellors through the court process to regain custody of her child. It was a huge breakthrough for WCCC when the Magistrate allowed WCCC to speak on her behalf, when the Director explained that she had been judged on the basis of her appearance alone, and not on her ability to care for her child. The Magistrate ruled that her baby be returned to her, and stated that he was not going to judge her on the basis of her looks and an unsound mental health assessment.
This case demonstrates one of WCCC’s greatest achievements, because WCCC is often criticised by traditional and conservative leaders for supporting victims who do not conform to local norms and expectations – WCCC is frequently told that such women and children are “a waste of time”; this case demonstrates WCCC’s commitment to human rights. It was also the first case heard by that particular Magistrate under the Family Protection Act and a milestone for court judgements based on a human rights framework.
A first hand account of child abuse from a client of WCCC
When I came to the centre I was so crazy. I was thinking of suicide – I just felt like my life was really not important. My uncle was hitting me a lot and I was very afraid of going home.
All the time though I was thinking of my mum in Australia. I haven’t seen her since I was a baby – and all I want in my life is to see her again. I can’t wait to give her a big hug.
The centre was really cool. I thank God so much for giving me to the Centre. They made me feel safe, they talked to me about how I felt, and they helped me to work out what comes next in my life. They let me talk to my friends and they even brouguht over my clothes. Now they are helping me to meet up with my mum.
I took my uncle to court. Now I have forgiven him for what he has done, but he will go to prison if he hits me again. I feel safer having gone to court – even though it was embarrassing and frightening.
My only wish is that I had come to the centre earlier. I know now that lots of people care about me and that my life is important and I have lots to do in my life. It’s cool – I feel safe now.
It was a Friday night and I already had permission from my dad to go to our church dance with my sister and cousin. We didn’t have a ride so we went somewhere else instead. My younger sister and cousin hung out with our friends while I was talking with my boyfriend. It was already late at that time and my dad called and said that he is so angry that we weren’t home. He said he was waiting for us with a bunch of power cords. We were too frightened to go back so we decided to sleep over at my friend’s house.
He kept on calling and threatened us that he’ll find us and cut our heads off. I was so afraid, I ignored his calls. But he called my cousin’s phone and convinced us to come back home saying that he won’t punish us anymore.
We went home but as soon as I got out the car, I got the feeling that he was lied. I walked in the house and saw a bunch of power cords in the living room. He beat us so hard with the cords that the neighbours could hear us crying. Then he locked us in a room and continued the beating. He burned all my clothes, cut my hair and smashed my phone. Afterwards I wasn’t allowed to go out of the house anymore or to any other church youth functions.
I was so afraid and felt that my life was worthless. So I ran away and stayed with my boyfriend at his house and we thought that getting married was the answer, but then again it wasn’t, so his family took me back to my father. I didn’t want to stay at home anymore because my father was so tough on me not allowing me to go anywhere. My cousin and I decided to go and look for our own life – that’s when I met a reverend and he helped us. He took us to a lawyer and the lawyer referred us to the centre.
I was so happy that someone was actually paying attention to me and listened to what I had to say. Right now I am under the protection of the centre which I find very helpful and supportive. At first I cried and felt lonely because I missed my friends. But later on after hanging with the other clients I was happy and very safe.
So I just want my fellow youth mates to know that there is still a chance when you feel worthless. Help is there – it’s just a matter of believing in yourself and having the courage to go and look for help despite what your friends might think of you. Whenever you feel afraid and lonely and can’t think of what to do anymore the centre is a very welcoming place for you to go and seek help and support from.
I use to work to one of the government department before and we had some problem in which they took me to court.
One of the government agents was working on my case and suppose to take me to the police station to take down my statement, but he took me to some bush and rapes me.
It has been four years since then; I just can’t have the guts to tell anyone about what happen to me, even my mother. I can’t get to report it to the police as he’s a government agent; I assume that they’ll just wipe it away.
I was ashamed of myself to even tell anyone that I have lost my dignity, my worth of being a woman, the one thing that you live for as being a woman.
I was working together with one of the lawyers concerning my case and I told him about what happen to me for the first time hoping that the lawyer will brought it up to be known, but he didn’t.
I have to see one of the government offices concerning the sentencing of my case and I have to explain my case from the beginning, I mention something about what happen to me and this person encourage me to seek help from the centre and I did.
At the moment we have a deal with the police, they are always there beside me to help and to go through everything, and I am more at ease at home feeling good about myself. I am just waiting for my court case.