Successful Domestic Violence Prevention is Grounded in Relationships with the Community during COVID-19 Pandemic
Written by: Luana Yoshikawa-Scanlan, MBA
Violence prevention work in the American Samoan community is particularly challenging and requires significant investment in changing norms, attitudes and behaviors of men and women. It demands an intersectional approach to intervention – an acknowledgment of the oppression and discrimination that social, cultural, political, and economic differences create in the context of an indigenous culture.
The experience and meaning of violence among Samoans are shaped by fa’aSamoa - a unique and complex system of values dominated by the concepts of extended family (aiga potopoto), chiefly structure (fa’amatai), and ceremonial reciprocity (fefa'asoaiga/fesuiaiga). These foundational experiences of spirituality pervade every aspect of Samoan life from birth to death. To prevent domestic violence in the American Samoan community, those doing the work must understand and respect the fa’aSamoa by demonstrating cultural competency when establishing equality (working through power dynamics), confidentiality (seeking consent and trust), and meaningful engagement (mutual benefit, reciprocity).
Successful domestic violence prevention is grounded in relationships with the community. ‘It is often felt by Pacific people that the development of the relationship is integral and takes precedence over the importance of the issues or business at hand’, (Otunuku, M. 2011). In the context of fa’aSamoa, the basis of a ‘relationship’ is trust and the process of building this trust is critical to successfully preventing domestic violence.
Gaining the confidence and respect of the community involves using appropriate cultural protocols in meaningful engagement. This begins with establishing social connections with individuals, acknowledging their cultural place in the community, discovering familial ties and other meaningful associations. Fāgogo, talanoa and tala mai fafo – sharing present and generational experiences through – can facilitate this process. Meeting people in their natural settings – at home, church, in the village fale afolau, etc. – can also foster respect and mutuality. In this relationship, those working to prevent domestic violence become part of the communities in which it is happening. They must identify their role, a place, in the vā or spatial relationships that comprise Samoan life. It is from this space that they can work to prevent domestic violence in the community.
During a pandemic this personalized, face-to-face engagement may not be possible which is why now is the time, post-pandemic, to assess relationships. In hindsight, strong relationships with efficient communication protocols would have averted disputes between the government, churches, and businesses over COVID-19 restrictions. The COVID-19 Task Force could have been more inclusive, with equal representation from all sectors of the community. The needs of domestic violence victims and survivors could have been considered when developing pandemic related protocols.
COVID-19 was not the first Pandemic and is not the last. Now is the time to seek out those who support efforts to prevent domestic violence to establish relationships built on trust and grounded in the values of fa’aSamoa. Galulue fa’atasi, working together, will ensure effective preparation for preventing domestic violence today and through the next Pandemic.
The Alliance is developing a framework for how culture, fa’aSamoa, can protect family members through respectful relationships, intervention to ensure safety for all, building resilience, and creating safe spaces for discussions about domestic violence in the context of a Pandemic environment. A toolkit of resources will support advocates, parents, leaders, educators to prevent and address violence.
Written by staff of the Alliance