Since July 2010, the women and Children Crisis Centre has seen an increase in the number of unreported cases coming to the centre. Domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases are now accounting for 20% of the centre’s cases.
Unreported cases are those that are not referred to the Crisis Centre from the Police.
The longest staff member, Counsellor Susana ‘Utahafe, puts this down to a change in methodology. “we started a new direction – ‘think local’. We started to visit house to house in our communities. We talked about the services at the centre, and educated any one who was interested about what counselling is. I was amazed – I have known most of these people my whole life. But the number of clients we received was a considerable increase. Now we have made it a regular part of our services at WCCC to provide home visits” said Susana.
Since July, when the counsellors begun the local initiative, 20% of referrals have come directly from the communities that the counsellors of the centre are based in, with a significant increase in requests for follow up appointments. Direct community referrals of cases of incest and sexual assault have also been increasing. The figures surprised counsellors who are familiar with the considerable cultural taboo around talking about issues that have been classified as ‘private’ and ‘inappropriate’ to discuss even with the closest confidant.
“I think it is the fact that in their homes people feel more comfortable, and also talking to people they have known their whole lives. Our clients are so brave to talk” said ‘Utahafe.
The increase in community cases – which may or may not lead on to an official report, depending on the client’s desires – has been combined with co-ordinated community response meetings being held every two weeks, which involve all service providers involved in providing for survivors of all forms of abuse. The Crisis Centre’s new approach has been the centre of many discussions between providers in Tonga– it has brought to light the fact that institutions are not providing safe space for survivors to receive report in, and that traditional reporting mechanisms are not substantial for the level of violence that is being committed in communities.
These meetings peaked the interest of the Ministry of Police statistics department, who have requested that basic demographics of unreported cases are sent over monthly in order to better inform all involved. The information from these community cases, combined with the reported cases from traditional referral sources (both the Ministry of Police and the Hospital), has been an effective way to highlight the importance of each stage that a client is handled. “WCCC works through a human rights framework – the needs of the victim must be heard and addressed at all stages . As service providers we are here to empower these women in every way – the trick is that there are so many gaps. We all have to work together to create the safest and most empowering environment for survivors of abuse” said ‘Utahafe. The Ministry of Police is currently working with all service providers to co-ordinate the statistics and ensure that the same definitions are used by all so that the numbers can demonstrate the level of violence taking place in the community.