One of the World’s Worst Places for Women Gets Its First Domestic Abuse Hotline

Counselors in Papua New Guinea will be available 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

A safe house for abused Papua New Guinea women. (Photo: YouTube)

Aug 20, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

A slap on the cheek, a punch in the gut, getting slashed with a machete: Finding a woman who hasn’t experienced intimate partner abuse is tough in Papua New Guinea. Until just two years ago, domestic violence wasn’t even considered a criminal offense in the island nation. Although physical mistreatment is punishable by fines and jail time, a slow shift in societal norms has left women and children vulnerable.

Hoping to offer support and options to families in danger, a free domestic violence hotline was launched on Wednesday. The toll-free line offers trauma counseling along with referrals for local support, including safe houses, law enforcement, and legal assistance.

“Family violence is a devastating problem throughout our region,” Nigel Spence, CEO of ChildFund Australia, the aid organization that helped raised funds for the program, said in a statement. “In Papua New Guinea, the avenues available for survivors to seek help are severely lacking, while entrenched attitudes around violence and gender inequality only complicate the issue.”

Human Rights Watch lists Papua New Guinea as “one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman.” Domestic violence occurs in approximately two-thirds of families in the South Pacific nation, although experts fear the number may be much higher, as many cases go unreported. The majority of women from the country who were interviewed for a 2013 report from ChildFund had experienced some form of domestic violence.

A lack of resources forces many women to stay in abusive relationships. Many rural areas aren’t equipped to assist victims with supportive housing or legal aid. Just six courthouses serve 228 villages, according to ChildFund. Magistrates with little professional training often oversee the cases that do make it to court. Women also have to pay for a medical certificate to present as evidence of the abuse. With almost 40 percent of the population living in poverty, a $10 certificate is often out of reach.

Private hotlines have long worked to empower women around the globe by helping them develop plans of action, regardless of financial means. Abuse hotlines popped up in the U.S. in the 1990s, but for the more than 80 percent of people living in Papua New Guinea’s rural areas, phone service is a relatively new phenomenon.

Along with supporting the victims, Papua New Guinean counselors will also offer their services to those perpetrating the abuse to address the root cause of the country’s culture of violence.

“There are many good people who, for whatever reason, commit bad acts,” said Aydelfe Salvadora, the program’s manager. “We understand that speaking to someone on either side of the issue may help improve the situation.”