For the third time in a week, the nation’s media are reporting cases of serious crimes against visitors to our country. In every case, the victims were female.
Gender based violence in Vanuatu was described as ‘horrific’ by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells following her recent visit here. This is only the most recent example of a litany of concern that visiting women of influence have expressed.
When are we going to listen?
After Florence Lengkon was assaulted, nearly a thousand women and men, young and old, marched to call for an end to this callous, cruel disregard for the dignity and rights of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The Deputy Prime Minister, responsible for tourism, responded swiftly, stating that he expected arrests to be made. Within a day, it was announced that the people responsible had been brought in for questioning.
Now, we’re told that it may be one of the same men who bashed Florence that beat up a Canadian woman, allegedly over a mere fender bender.
The Police reportedly failed to respond to her assault. The Police failed to arrive when called to the scene of the heinous attack reported in today’s newspaper, telling the victim to proceed directly to hospital. It was the local chiefs who brought the suspect in a brutal assault and rape in rural Santo earlier this month.
The Vanuatu Police Force do many things right. They could do many things better. But this complacence in the face of violence and brutality is symptomatic of an illness that afflicts the entire country.
Why is it okay to bash up, hospitalise and even kill our women?
Why do we continue to blame victims of rape for the crime? Why do individual men not feel morally compelled to react? Seriously—the law be damned—if someone showed up with the injuries that we see in these photos, how is it possible not to react?
This lack of basic human compassion beggars belief.
I, and more than a few friends and colleagues, expat and Ni-Vanuatu alike, have intervened personally in cases of gender based violence in the past. In deference to the victims, I can’t divulge any details, but suffice it to say that many of us have witnessed, and all too rarely prevented, truly horrific acts.
Virtually every single one of them went unpunished.
What will it take to change us as a society? What is it going to take for people to realise that this cruelty and victimisation has to stop?
Do we not realise that continued assaults on women are just as much as threat to this nation’s reputation as our dodgy politicians and questionable runway?
Three out of four women in Vanuatu are victims of violence in their own home. That is a sickness more widespread and more pernicious than malaria, dengue… you name it. Its economic cost is quite literally incalculable.
And now, with increasing frequency, that sickness is exacting its price on visitors to our country as well.
To anyone with feelings, we can only ask: Yu no sem?
I know I am.
The violence must stop.