28 Nov 2013

One-stop-shop' crisis service for domestic abuse launched in Tonga

5:48 pm on 28 November 2013

It's hoped that a 'one-stop-shop' crisis service for domestic abuse sufferers in Tonga will prevent re-victimisation and encourage more victims to come forward.

The service is a joint effort between the Tonga police and the Women and Children Crisis Centre, which gives victims access to police, medical and counselling services all in the one building.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

The director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre, Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki, says they wanted to create a space where women can have access to free, non-judgemental counselling. She says, if needed, a registered nurse can provide a free basic health check-up and a police officer will be there to take victim statements in a safe space. Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki says the goal is to reduce the impact of re-victimisation.

"OFA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: We found that the victim had to go to so many places just to get someone to listen to what has happened to her and to do something about it, and to have to tell her story repeatedly over a span of two or three days, to a few different agencies, also takes a toll on her, so we wanted to reduce that."

Since 2008 to November this year, close to 2,300 domestic violence complaints have been made to police. The Minister of Police, Siosifa Tu'itupou Tu'utafaiva, says he believes there is still a huge number of unreported domestic violence crime. He says before he was a minister, he was a lawyer, and witnessed first hand the extent of injuries suffered by children and women due to domestic violence.

SUISUFA TU'ITUPOU: We still do not really know how to stop this brutality and violence on members of the family, other than enforcing the law to it's full extent. But with the setting up of the crisis centre, it is hoped that it will make complainants feel a bit easier when they come to the crisis centre to file complaints about domestic violence.

Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki says the hope is that this initiative will encourage more victims of violence to come out and seek help.

OFA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: They can come to a crisis centre, which is less daunting than waiting in a police station, or less daunting than sitting in a reception of the main hospital, but it'll actually encourage them to come out, tell their story once, key stakeholders and agencies can get together and figure out what the best options are for this victim, and let her make the choices and we advocate on her behalf and help her through what she needs to get through.

The Tonga police commissioner, Superintendent Grant O'Fee, says the police in Tonga have a long way to go in terms of changing their own attitudes towards domestic violence. He says some staff do not treat women appropriately when they go to the police to complain, and this is something they are working on changing. Grant O'Fee says he hopes the 'one-stop-shop' crisis service will make a big impact for victims.

GRANT O'FEE: The benefit of this is, that when a woman goes in to the collective centre there, she will get counselling, in January they will offer medical attention as well, and then they can go into a private room and speak to a police woman, who will, if they wish to complain, will take the complaint from her. So, offers women a safe place where they will be treated with dignity and respect, which regrettably doesn't always happen at police stations.

Grant O'Fee says the police officer chosen to be stationed at the Women's Crisis Centre, Officer Paea Takau, is honest and enthusiastic about the position, and will have ongoing training for the role.