Friday, March 06, 2009

The rape of Papua New Guinean women

By ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ of Letters From Port Moresby


 MANY YEARS ago, an Asian woman was abducted by a group of five raskols (hoodlums) while she was getting into her car at a parking lot near her workplace shortly after calling it a day.

The woman in her 40s was taken to the settlement just outside of Port Moresby where she was gang-raped. After the original group was done with her, she was again subjected to the same brutal assault by a pile of 10 young and old village men who paid K2 (US$0.70 at current rate) each for a quick, forced-sex, a torture that lasted the whole night.

Just before sunrise, she was brought back to where her car had been parked overnight. To save her from further humiliation, her family kept their silence about her nightlong ordeal.

Obviously, they believed that the local police won’t exert effort in bringing the culprits to justice if ever they filed a complaint. During those days the local police were, and are still these days, having difficulty earning the trust of Port Moresby expatriates.

These days, rape cases are rife across the country. The act is commonly committed within the family. A husband comes home intoxicated, demands for food and when there’s no food to serve, beats up the poor wife and rapes her, after which he turns his lust to the second female in the family – his daughter.

A young girl left alone at home would neither feel safe nor protected because chances are, some nuts from the village who could be her relatives would just barged into her home and assault her.

A lone female – whether she’s in her pre-puberty or old enough to be called a woman – would always face the risk of getting assaulted while working in the food garden or walking home from school. And even if they are in a group that just emerged from a disco house, the chances of attack are even greater, this time involving a bigger gang of usually drunken men.

Horrific stories of torture, rape and other violence against women are a common staple of Papua Guinea’s mainstream newspapers – The National, Post Courier and the Sunday Chronicle.

Over the last several months, the news pages had been dotted by rape stories involving young girls, young women, housewives and even elderly women. And their attackers were both young and older men who were either intoxicated or under the influence of marijuana. And a number of them are family members and relatives.

Take for instance, the rape cases in New Guinea Islands on the northern waters of PNG. (NGI is composed of big and small islands including the West New Britain, New Ireland and Manus provinces.) The island-provinces’ police commander expressed dismay that parents of rape victims – many of them minors – are not cooperating with the police by reporting the culprits, in most cases individuals who have been trusted by the family and the community.

The island provinces’ statistics showed that there were two incidents of “sexual penetration” being reported in one day. These figures are quite alarming, the commander said, and lashed out at parents who are supposed to be taking good care of their young daughters but are not. Most of the offenders were usually under the influence of marijuana and alcohol, usually home-brewed.

Sadly, many women have come to see sexual assaults among violence inflicted on them as “normal”, as have men, confident in the knowledge that the state will not act quickly, decisively or consistently against them.

WHY IS THIS happening in a country of more than 6 million and that is just beginning to make sense of the influences from the Western world brought in by outsiders from about 17 countries?

American researcher Shirley Oliver-Miller*, in a recent three-year study on sexuality in PNG, has observed:

“To most young Papua New Guinean women today, a man with money, a car, or even a schoolboy with promise, is a far more attractive prospect than a poor boy with no obvious future. For many young men, having no money with which to buy sex directly, or simply with which to make a girlfriend happy, is a frustrating state of affairs.

“Some men state that there is no opportunity for them to have sex at all, unless they rape a woman. Group rape is less likely to lead to trouble than individual rape, although most men who state they rape women do both.”

Oliver-Miller has observed that any sort (of raped) is disturbingly common in all areas of the country, rural, town, and city. In addition to commercial sex, there is the issue of “line-up” or pack rapes.

“Often associated with “six-to-sixes” (clubs that remain open from 6pm to 6am) or video showings that run from evening to dawn in both rural and urban areas, a group of men/boys take turns in forcing a woman to have sexual intercourse with them.

Says Oliver-Miller: “As they watch each other, the sexual dynamics of rape and homosexuality mix to produce, for some, a highly erotic event. In some communities, line-ups are reported to take place every weekend. Older men, many of whom are married, are also frequently involved. Younger men and even boys of 11 or 12 are able to join with their elders in sexually abusing a women.

A 17-year-old guy she interviewed described his village: “In here, rape and forced sex exist just like in other parts of the province. It happens especially during disco nights and video shows. When we brought our village girls to the disco or video show, the boys from other places came and took our girls for dance and sometimes take them home to sleep with them and have sex with.

“We thought they slept only with their friends, but somehow, the boys arranged it with their village boys and made single file on them (line-up). When the girls come back, they never tell us about it because they are afraid and ashamed. Then, we do the same to their sisters in return.”

Oliver-Miller noted that this type of sexual practice is extremely dangerous because the men involved are exposed to the semen of many of the men, thus raising the risk of acquiring STIs and AIDS, not from the woman, but from the other men involved. And the woman is placed at extremely high risk of acquiring STIs and HIV as well.

But even up to these days, many Papua New Guineans still do not like to admit that such things are going on. However, there is now a great deal of evidence from studies conducted in selected urban areas (like Daru, Port Moresby, Lae and Goroka) and may rural villages that such sexual activities are widespread.

These sexual activities are highly dangerous from a public point of view because they spread diseases very quickly, not just among the people who participate in them, but among all those other persons, wives and husbands, new and old boyfriends and girlfriends, with whom these people have sex. These activities are also responsible for many STIs, including HIV, among newborn babies.

In most areas of PNG today, pornographic magazines, picture books, and videos are available, despite laws to the contrary.

Many adults and young people seem to enjoy looking at pictures of people having sex. They consider it educational, and given the dearth of printed or other media on sex, this is hardly surprising.

To some young people, however, the experience is frightening, because they find themselves sexually aroused with little understanding of how to manage their desires.

And oftentimes, this leads to rape.


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*SHIRLEY OLIVER-MILLER is Senior Program Officer II, at Margaret Sanger Center International, Planned Parenthood of New York City. Since 1980, Ms Oliver-Miller has been responsible for managing government and non-government projects, and developing and implementing program strategies around reproductive and sexual health issues. She has worked in 37 countries, most recently Papua New Guinea, developing programs for government and non-governmental agencies around population health.


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