In October the American Samoa Alliance against Domestic & Sexual Violence (aka the Alliance), and its partners focused on National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time for communities to come together and reflect upon the experiences of the victims and combat the culture which enables the perpetrators. Although the voices and perspectives of victims of domestic violence are of the utmost importance, we must not forget that dismantling this form of patriarchal violence is not just in the hands of women, but also of men.
In American Samoa, men and boys learn from an early age not to interfere between couples’ disputes and that they are the ones in charge of the household, the heads of the family, and therefore their views should not be questioned. Although there are many aspects of our culture which celebrate non-violence and positive masculinity, the gender hierarchy allows perpetrators of violence to act freely and disproportionally hurts women and girls. Most men will not become domestic abusers, however, if men keep looking away and enabling other men to commit acts of violence against their wives and loved ones, we will never be able to eliminate domestic violence.
That is why we are calling on all men and boys of American Samoa to stand up for gender equality and have a zero-tolerance attitude towards all violence against women and girls.
We need to work together on perpetrator accountability and understand why some men think violence is an adequate response to everyday problems. We need to make sure our boys grow up in an environment in which violence is not normalized, we must make sure they are taught to respect women and girls and that they understand how aggressive and controlling behavior towards your loved ones is a toxic form of masculinity.
The protection of the victims should always come first, but if we take prevention seriously, it is clear we must work with boys and men as well. We need a collective effort to analyze the root causes of domestic violence and design strategies to change the cultural norms and behaviors that allow it to happen. We need to highlight positive male role models, men who stand up for the women in their communities and go the extra mile to make sure there are no perpetrators in their families or villages.
The Alliance has held focus groups with men in the community and will be sharing these findings December 1, 2019. We hope this will inspire men and boys across our community to join our fight.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we will post them on our Facebook Page.
Welcome to our new e-newsletter “Tusitala”. Robert Louis Stevenson was named “Tusitala” when he settled in the village of Vailima on Upolu, meaning the “Teller of Tales”. Pacific Islanders are expert in story telling, using it to share knowledge. The Tusitala Newsletter will be use as a platform for the Alliance to share our knowledge and stories with you regarding eliminating domestic and sexual violence in our community.
We hope you like the new design, new format and new ways of sharing our knowledge and news with you! Each month you'll get informative articles about prevention and awareness regarding domestic and sexual violence.
Each month we will highlight stories from the community to promote how we can change the lens in which we view violence, and help to lessen violence in our community. You will notice a new section for training events the Alliance and its partners host. Maybe you have a family member or friend who may benefit from the information in our e-newsletter - please share!
Each newsletter will also be sent via email, or posted on our as website, Facebook page and Twitter. Yes, that’s right, American Samoa Alliance against Domestic & Sexual Violence recently (finally!) joined Instagram, and twitterverse. You’ll be provided access to those sites in our October newsletter.
We always welcome your feedback as we strive to be your resource center for all systems that create domestic & sexual violence. We will introduce sections focused on wellness and healing to promote healthy recovery in our community.
Jennifer F. Tofaeono,Executive Director
American Samoa Alliance against Domestic & Sexual Violence
The Alliance team (Board Members and Staff) held its first ever Strategic Planning Workshop facilitated by PRIME Consultants Group through Mrs. Luana Yoshikawa-Scanlan, and Va’a Tofaeono.
For our data we used gaps assessments produced by the Alliance Team, and evaluation provided by PRIME Consultants to determine our Strategic Goals and Objectives. It was important we ensured these goals ensure align with our vision and mission statement.
We focused on Steps, Actions, Goals to promote 1) Victim safety, 2) Perpetrator Accountability, for Domestic Violence. We identified ways to ensure 3) Victims of Sexual Assault Healing 4) Community Accountability—and ensuring for DVSA there is a component for 5) Prevention.
A great way to focus on the value of the work as we support our vision: “An American Samoa where individuals love free of violence with equality, dignity, and respect.”
The work continues over the next 90 days as we develop our objectives. Our goal is to have a completed draft by October 1, 2019.
Changing the Lens in which we view violence can be a daunting task. Domestic and Sexual violence is prevalent in our community. Stories in the newspaper depict the many types of domestic, family and sexual violence in American Samoa. The Alliance works with partners in the community to eliminate violence, and our first approach was to ask our community what did they feel.
In 2017 the Alliance team asked key informants, “Does the Fa’a Samoa (Samoa Way) promote Domestic Violence?” One participant responded, “When we say Fa’aSamoa, Fa’aSamoa of when? Is it now? Or is it the time of the missionaries?? (2017). The picture attached is the picture of women who supported the Mau, a non-violent movement for Samoan independence from colonial rule during the first half of the 20th century. Domestic and Sexual Violence are result of oppression, cruel or unjust treatment, causing mental pressure or distress, and we recognize a movement, like the Mau, needs to happen to eliminate violence in American Samoa.
How will the Alliance measure success? I’ve read fixed mindsets are born with talent, or want to be seen as perfect. Growth mindset people have desire to learn, improve and develop. Predators of domestic & sexual violence prey on those with fixed mindsets. Victims continue to hide behind a veil of silence.
The Alliance believes in growth mindsets to change the lens in which we see domestic & sexual violence there needs to be authentic and real discussions for growth. We ask that you take the journey us as we continue a movement.