PNG has some of the highest levels of family and sexual violence in the world.
Joanne showed severe signs of malnutrition when she walked with her 10-month-old baby girl into the Family Support Center in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. She told the staff of Doctors Without Borders that she had left her baby with the child’s father the day before to go out and beg for food.
When she returned home her daughter was distressed, she had a fever, and her genitals were swollen and bruised. Some time before, the child’s father had sexually abused Joanne’s eldest daughter, so Joanne instantly knew what had happened.
At the center, the staff of Doctors Without Borders tried to get both Joanne and her baby into short-term safe housing. After some time, a temporary room became available and the two moved in. Most safe houses in PNG don’t provide financial assistance and rules require that children are never left unattended. Unable to leave the house without her daughter in order to find work or beg, Joanne was left with no choice but to return home to her abusive partner.
According to a report published by Doctors Without Borders in March, Papua New Guinea has some of the highest rates of family and sexual violence in the world outside a conflict zone, with an estimated 70 percent of women experiencing rape or assault in their lifetime.
In 2014 and 2015 only, Doctors Without Borders welcomed more than 3,000 survivors in the Center: 94 percent of the patients were female, over half of the survivors were children, and in three out of four cases the perpetrator was the partner or a family member.
“In Papua New Guinea, violence towards women seems to be the norm,” Ume Wainetti, National Coordinator of the Papua New Guinea Family and Sexual Violence Committee (FSVAC), told me during a brief interview. “It is a daily occurrence and it is accepted, for instance, that husbands can discipline wives by beating them up. Most sexual violations are not even reported because women are scared of the repercussions.”
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