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Vlad Sokhin | Crying Meri: violence against women in Papua New Guinea

According to the statistics, in Papua New Guinea two thirds of women are constantly exposed to domestic violence and about 50% of women become victims of sexual assaults (in Chimbu and Western Highlands provinces, 97% and 100% respectively of women surveyed said they had been assaulted). Local men don’t respect their meris (“meri” in Pidgin means “woman”), constantly beating them, often using bush knives and axes. While in traditional villages such attitudes toward women can be attributed to tribal culture, today in Port Moresby violence against women shocks modern society.

The main danger comes from the Raskol gangs that rule the settlements in the capital city. Raping women is a “must” for the young members of the gang. In most Papua tribes, when a boy wants to become a man, he should go to enemy’s village and kill a pig. After that, his community will accept him as an adult. In industrial Port Moresby women have replaced pigs.

Often violence against women in PNG takes savage forms. Sorcery-related brutality is widespread all around the country, but mostly in rural areas of the Highlands region. In case of an unexpected death in a village, its residents accuse a random woman (usually a relative of the dead person) and torture her, forcing to admit that she is a witch. Many of these “punishments” result in the victim’s death. But even if the woman survives, she would be expelled from the community for good. The PNG Government neither has a program of helping victims of sorcery-related violence nor provides any shelter for those women. Participants of such executions usually never get punishment, even in case of the death of their victims.

It is very rare that violence-against-women cases are brought to court. Most assailants are kept in a prison cell at the police station for a couple of days and then released. The police claim the lack of conviction stems from the fact that victims often fear filing a statement or that many wives take pity on their husbands and insist on the termination of the case. According to the Family Support Center’s statistics, more and more violence against women happens in middle class families, where lawyers, policemen or even church pastors strike their wives. Rejected and beaten women are often kicked out of home to the street, where they became easy targets for the Raskol gangs.

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