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Three rapes a week in Vanuatu cause uproar

Women condemn police reaction

The spectre of rape has clouded the halo of happiness in Vanuatu in recent months and led to robust debate about women’s place in society. Late in June police issued a media release in Port Vila concerned that they were now dealing with up to three rapes in the capital each week. Widespread international research over many years has shown that there are probably as many, if not more, unreported sexual assault cases in any time frame and country as are reported. The police media release had been prompted by the rapes of two women in separate attacks near a popular night spot on the edge of Port Vila’s CBD.

In one of those cases, among those later charged by police was a 12-year-old boy. Police said that one of the female victims was a married woman in her early 30s who had been out clubbing or similar with friends while her husband was at home. The police media statement was critical of this, saying she should have been at home with her husband. This immediately triggered a strident reaction from women’s groups around the country, incensed that women should be portrayed in this manner.

They said it diverted attention from the key issue of the rape of an innocent woman to something that should be irrelevant. But they also admitted that it was an accurate reflection of how numerous men viewed women and their place in Vanuatu society. In 2008, a group of women formed Women against Crime and Corruption and their chairperson and Vanuatu’s leading female activist, Jenny Ligo, said its formation came after the kidnap of a woman in Port Vila.

“We were concerned then that the victims were not being treated fairly in the system and not given enough attention,’’ she said. “And most of those victims were women and children and nothing has changed in Vanuatu as far as the victims are concerned. Often these victims are voiceless, so we have become their voice. “With the married woman raped in Vila recently, the attention focused on her being out without her husband and not on the fact that she is the victim and that is just so wrong. “A married woman being out at night is no one else’s business except between her and her husband. “Women should be able to move around both day and night without fear of being attacked and that is the real issue.’’

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