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Opinion, Opinion

#MeeToo: Forcing The Window Open On Abuse

#MeeToo:   Forcing The Window Open On Abuse
March 31
11:42 2018

The past year has demonstrated that the best way, probably the only way, to stop the growing problems of abuse in the community is to open up and let everyone know that there is a problem that needs action.

This technique was developed and re­fined by the women of #metoo, a way of getting many of the victims to open up and name names.

It worked brilliantly and bought down many high flyers in business, entertain­ment and politics who had thought their lofty position and the weakness of the women they abused would protect them.

And it did, until enough women re­alised they were not alone, overcame their feelings of shame and fear of re­taliation and joined the accusers.

It has had a big impact on the disgust­ing pastime of the offenders and is mak­ing a difference.

But there are a number of other forms of abuse that will not be solved by the #metoo approach, but that need to be addressed.

The list is depressingly long and sad­dening because the abuses take away the innocence of many young people, they inflict prolonged and continuing pain, both emotional and physical and they cause people, through no fault of their own, to live in fear, real, debilitat­ing emotional pain.

The main group caught in this network of abuse is predominantly women and children of both genders but biased to females.

The perpetrators are always bullies and there is a strong bias towards males and it is unusual for young people to be serial abusers.

Almost all the time they are people the victim knows, often family, which makes it even sadder because the victim should be able to trust the abuser. Not only do these acts damage the victim physically but are very destructive emo­tionally

The elder victims are able to help themselves, although a very significant percentage do not do so, keeping quiet about the issue out of fear of further abuse, which usually comes anyway, out of fear that the family will be shamed and will blame the victim for the situa­tion or because they are ashamed, par­ticularly in the case of sexual abuse, because they feel defiled and are not sure they will have the support of other people.

Eventually they will seek help and sup­port and may get the peace they need but in many cases the people they speak to do not want them to bring dishonour on the family, so discourage them from speaking out.

It is at this point the #metoo concept comes into force.

But the ones who can’t usually help themselves are the young and the ones who most need outside support.

This is particularly so in regard to sex­ual abuse, as a close relative or friend, the abuser, is constantly telling them that what is happening is all right and not bad and they should enjoy it, al­ways with the admonishment that they should not tell anyone else about the secret.

In all cases of abuse there will be peo­ple who know that it is happening but for many reasons do not tell someone else about it, or if they do they always say it has to be kept secret and they don’t confide in a person in authority.

There is also a core group of people who see a number of abuse cases in­volving different victims, they become aware of it in their professional life, but make a judgement call not to confront the abuser and they keep quiet about the issue.

This group consists of health profes­sionals, doctors and nurses, school teachers, some NGO personnel, people involved in religious groups and the po­lice.

I am informed the police officers al­ways act if the problem is with the young but with older victims they are dependent on the victim being prepared to press charges before they can become further involved.

They do have a “no drop policy” if the abuse is reported by the victim but face problems if the complaint is by a third party and the victim will not support the police action.

The other groups are left pretty much alone to make the decision on whether or not to report the abuse and many fac­tors come into play there.

Generally, if it is a first observation, they will be inclined to not report and in many cases with the young it is dif­ficult to get the victim to confirm abuse.

This is especially so if the abuser is a loved one.

To compound the problem there is no clear path to reporting and it is usually difficult to identify someone who can ef­fectively address the problem.

The observer also has to evaluate the likelihood of an effective outcome if they do report to the selected person against the possibility that the victim may suffer further.

There is a proven way the issues can be addressed, one that has been legislated in a number of countries.

This is called mandatory reporting and it is a law that requires a person in a designated group observing signs of abuse to report it and then any further action deemed necessary will be taken.

Mandatory reporting makes it an of­fence for any designated person not to report the signs of abuse or their belief that abuse is taking place.

If they are professionally involved with the victim and the abuse eventu­ally comes to the attention of the police they can follow up with the people who should have been aware of the issue to establish why it was not reported.

Because they have a legal obligation to report, there is no need to make a diffi­cult decision.

And if the abuse is reported early it is much easier to resolve the problem and stop the damage.

Experience has also shown that the fear of being exposed is a real deterrent so the existence of mandatory reporting needs to be widely promoted.

The problem is that in Fiji while there is some form of mandatory reporting, it is broadly unknown or ignored, so the decision and the problems of reporting are left in the hands of the observer for whom taking no action is usually the easiest course.

Even people high up in the health and education profession are not aware of a mandatory reporting requirement.

If Fiji really wants to stop the abuse, particularly abuse of the young, then mandatory reporting is the most valu­able tool we have, and there are plenty of operating models internationally we can use to guide us in the implemen­tation, but the single most important thing is to ensure that every designated person knows of the requirements and how to respond.

And I believe that any tool that will help anyone, particularly kids, to live a happy, peaceful and fearless life should be used to the utmost.

John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism. For feedback on this article, please email him: johnrossfiji@gmail.com

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