Domestic violence, a learned behaviour that’s not OK, says police commander in Tonga

A total of 2,753 women were victims of violence in the decade 2000-09, according to Tonga Police statistics that show on average 23 women per month come to police to report an incident of physical or sexual violence; and last year four women died in domestic incidents.

“The majority of these victims were assaulted in the domestic environment – ‘the home or safe environment!’ and without doubt nearly all the attackers, the offenders were known to the victims,” said Tonga’s Police Commander Chris Kelley today, in opening the National Consultation Process on “Advocacy Strategies for Advancing Legislative Change to address Violence against women”.

Commander Kelley said that, perhaps, an anti-violence curriculum is just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic in schools and that Tonga Police are looking to introduce a schools programme over the next two years.

“My point is that look to the starting point, look at when, how, where it might begin, in the sons of today are the traits of the men tomorrow,” he said.

“If you are to review the concepts of violence against women, endorse findings in local research, develop strategies, introduce new laws, initiatives, you need to identify at least one important point. Where does it begin? What stimulates the act of violence against women here in Tonga?” he said.

“In my opinion it’s a learned behaviour perpetrated in peer pressure. Yes, it’s a power thing, a control mechanism but I don’t think you are born with a gene labeled ‘domestic violence’ – you learn from others, regrettably.

“If your son sees his father assaulting his mother and getting away with it, is it OK?

“If your son is encouraged to indulge in school fighting because of some misguided honour, or his father and grandfather did it, is it OK?

“If the availability and consumption rate of alcohol plays a major part in domestic violence, is it OK?

“If you have a wife and family but little or no relationship skills then is it OK?

“If it’s not appropriate to assault your mother and sister but it is alright to assault your wife or other women, then is it OK?

“We all know it’s never OK!” he said.

Commander Kelly said that the ten years of statistics referred to grievous bodily harm, to rape, indecent assault, injury and wounding, but these statistics did not include intimidation, threats or psychological and emotional abuse.

“The reported rate of violence against women has climbed from 113 in the year 2000 to 404 in 2009. Now, well over one report each day of a serious assault incident against women is made by women.”

He said that the courts have entered convictions in 1304 of those 2,753 cases, or 47%. Other cases were withdrawn, acquitted or still under investigation and pending trial..

These statistics don’t include murder and manslaughter, which reached a peak in 2009 when four women died in separate domestic incidents.

“Remember I am quoting you reported crime. What about the unreported figure and %. I don’t know what that figure is – who does?

“Don’t fall into the trap of changing the law for change sake but I strongly believe the law needs to reflect the rights of women and children and recognize their special place in society,” he said.

“If we are to introduce new laws we must look at ways that will benefit women and children, protect women and children – not just punish men, because that hasn’t been too successful if you accept the reported statistics,” he said.

Tonga Police are introducing a domestic violence response policy in July this year and a draft will be discussed in the seminar. A feature of the police Domestic Violence Response Guidelines is the ‘No Drop Policy’ for reported physical assaults.

“Police will seek feedback on the draft policy before introduction – that process will help contribute to positive outcomes for this consultation,” Commander Kelley said.

He added that these issues are not peculiar to Tonga, not indigenous to this country, not a reflection of every male in Tonga today. “Acknowledgment is one thing, acceptance is another, acceptance that change is required will be the key to progress.”

The consultation was organised by the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SCP) in partnership with the Women’s Affairs and Culture with the aim to improve legislation to protect women and to develop appropriate policy and legislation in Tonga. Over four days this week the participants will review existing general assault laws, discriminatory provisions and practices in the areas of violence against women and develop practical strategies for legislative change in the area of violence against women.


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