It’s not always easy to record and document violence against women in the most developed countries in the world, but that can be even harder in countries that have less of a medium available in which their citizens can make a reasonable attempt to cry out for help. If you’re a woman living your life in a quiet Samoan society, what can you do to make yourself heard? The answer is this: more than ever before, but still not enough. Luckily, the U.N. has launched an expansive investigation into allegations of a growing number of cases involving violence against women.
In early August, U.N. investigators began the search for the truth. They started in the Samoan capital, Apia, and branched out further into villages on the islands of Upolu and Savai’i. There are only 200,000 people living in Samoa, so when allegations of rising violence come to light, it’s difficult not to take them seriously. Then again, it’s extremely possible that the perpetuation of such violence isn’t necessarily on the rise; instead, perhaps it’s more likely that newly emboldened women who live there are finally taking a step in the right direction by coming forward to report the crimes.
There were only 200 cases of domestic violence reported in 2012, and in only three short years that figure has skyrocketed to over 700. A 2007 study exposed other startling figures. Over 45 percent of women were abused by their significant others, while around 60 percent were abused by others. That a majority of women experience abuse but only a frighteningly small percentage go on to report it suggests that silence is a deeply ingrained aspect of the local culture and society.
In order to combat the humanitarian crisis, then, something needs to be done in order to confront the guilt and shame felt by those abused while providing a reasonable alternative. Although shelters for women abound in the U.S., those same options aren’t always available to women in other regions overseas. That means if women come forward now, they could be putting themselves at further risk. No one wants that, but we need to hear from them in order to facilitate the right kind of change. Their stories need to be told and told quickly.
The U.N. investigators sent to Samoa will be interacting with various other agencies in the country in order to continue searching for facts related to domestic violence and the murder of young women. They plan to speak with government officials about what more can be done, while also looking to state representatives and academic leaders for more help. The first step is policy reform.