October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an important awareness-raising initiative which was started in 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. As always, the American Samoa Alliance against Domestic & Sexual Violence (the Alliance), along with thousands of organizations across the United States, take up this opportunity to spread awareness about the impact of violence against women and encourage communities to act against it and support its victims.
This Day of Unity became an opportunity for advocates and shelter workers to come together with victims and loved ones of people affected by domestic violence, with the cooperation of local governments concerned with this epidemic that takes the lives of thousands of women each year. Since 2014, homicides of intimate partners has been rising and it remains one of the major forms of gender-based violence for Pacific Islanders.
Although only 18,3% of Asian Pacific Islanders reported to have been a victim of domestic violence according to a 2012 report, the real number is expected to be much higher and it contradicts the trends in neighboring countries: 64% of women in Fiji, 46% in Samoa and 40% in Tonga have experienced domestic violence. Overall, 3 out of 5 Pacific Islanders are abused. This leads victims’ advocates in American Samoa to believe many women do not feel comfortable coming forward and there is a need to raise-awareness in the community and combat the normalization of violence between intimate partners.
Research performed by the Alliance found that cultural norms in American Samoa may foster an environment in which domestic violence is considered as “normal”. The report of the research states: “while the Fa’aSamoa does not condone violence, the responsibilities, traditional roles and protocols of the Fa’aSamoa create an environment in which women are inherently subordinate to men which then translates to male dominance, and further transmutes to discrimination and in the worst case, ‘wife beating’ for cause such as adultery or withholding sex”.
The gender inequality inherent to these cultural hierarchies lead some men to believe domestic violence is a way to deal with everyday problems. Due to the collectivist nature of American Samoa culture and living arrangements, incidents of domestic violence are usually witnessed by other members of the village, but it is still viewed as disrespectful to report these incidents to law enforcement.
Victims of domestic violence should not feel ashamed or guilty, and they should have access to services and professionals who can adequately support them. We must work with community leaders and incentivize collaborative strategies to support and empower American Samoa women and change the current paradigm which ignores domestic violence as the serious problem that it is. We must challenge the patriarchal norms that normalize domestic violence and instead encourage men and boys to respect women and girls and criticize abusers within their community.
Domestic violence is a not a private problem within a couple, it is rather a global human rights violation which we should all fight against. The murders of battered wives and the long-lasting effects of domestic violence for children who witness it must awake our collective consciousness and force us to act together.
During the month of October, the Alliance and its partners, Department of Human Social Services, Catholic Social Services, LBJ Tropical Medical Center, Community Health Center, Department of Legal Affairs, Criminal Justice Planning Agency, American Samoa Legal Aid Office and others, will be wearing Purple every Thursday to honor victims and survivors of Domestic Violence. Please send us your photos to email@example.com and we will post them on our Facebook Page.