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

Banil Yalomba (16) came to the Antenatal Clinic of Port Moresby after having been sexually assaulted by her ex-boyfriend. A day after they separated, her former partner came to her parents’ house and dragged Banil to a bush area, threatening her with a knife. There he beat her and raped her. Banil’s father managed to find his daughter laying unconscious on the ground and brought her to the hospital.
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.

Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea is one of the most dangerous sites in the world. Rape, robbery, pickpockets, armed robberies, carjackings, stoning of vehicles are problems in and around the city. About 50% of the female population is constantly exposed to domestic and street violence. The city center is safe during the daylight, but it is very dangerous to go to the settlements where rule local gangs, called “Raskols”.

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.

Richard Bal (45) shows disfigured ear of his wife Agita Bal (32) in the Morobe block, Port Moresby. In December of 2010 after coming home drunk, Richard took a bush-knife and cut half of Agita’s left ear. He spent one night in the police station and was released next morning due to ”insufficient evidence” to initiate criminal proceedings. Agita’s relatives didn’t allow her to leave Richard, having received 500 kina (about 240 USD) from him for the ”potential damage”.

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.

Andres Sime (39), is waiting for trial in a prison cell, having been accused of multiple rapes. The Boroko police station, Port Moresby.

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.

Gimu Jack (65), shows her mutilated palm to a photographer at Yamox village, Eastern Highlands Province. Gimu lost the little finger in a fight with her husband, who chopped it off with an ax. However, many Highlander women cut their fingers themselves in family disputes showing their disagreement with their partners.
Hellen Alphons (about 38 years old), lost her leg in 2005 in a fight with her drunk husband, Alai Kawa. Alai chopped out Hellen’s right leg with a bush knife in front of their young children, who later called for help. Alai Kawa was arrested by police, but Hellen left her home after the treatment with the fear that her husband might be released. She came back only in 2010 when she found out that Alai died in prison. Nowadays she lives together with Alai’s sister and they both run a small shop in Kundiawa town, Simbu Province.
Helena Michael (40), mother of seven children. On December 27th (2011) she was attacked by a ”cannibal” near the Boroko police station, in the central part of Port Moresby. The attacker bit off Helena’s lower lip and wanted to sink his teeth into her throat. The woman managed to escape by kicking her assailant in his testicles and biting three of his fingers forcing him to release her. Police arrested the man and found out that it was his third attempt to eat human flesh. Having spent three days in the hospital, Helena went to the police station to initiate criminal proceedings against the cannibal, but discovered that he had been released due to the lack of complaints.
Omsy Evo’o Koivi (31), ex-member of “Kips Kaboni” (“Red Devils”) Raskol gang, with his wife Carol Koivi (24) in their house. Omsy was a rapist and a thief, but few years ago he left his gang activities and became a bas guitarist. His band “Amua Durupu” has won international awards. Omsy says, that after he quitted the gang, he also stopped beating his wife. However, he keeps his handmade gun for family protection, as they still live in Kaugeri settlement – the most dangerous place of Port Moresby.
Weapons confiscated from Raskol gang members during attacks on women. Top Town police station, Sexual Offences Squad, Lae town, Morobe Province.
Mutilated hands of Rasta Twa (around 60 years old), who was accused of being a sorcerer by people from her village, after the death of a young man in 2003. During the funeral, which gathered all the villagers, the crowd surrounded Rasta and began to beat her severely, strangling her with a rope and wielding axes, bush knives and wooden sticks. Rasta managed to escape and ran into her house, where she was caught up by one of the pursuers. He intended to cut off Rasta’s head with a bush knife, but she managed to protect her with her arm, which was immediately chopped off.
Dini Korul (about 52-54 years old), a victim of superstition-driven violence, lies on the bed in her house in Wormai village, Simbu Province. In May 2011 her son Bobby Korul died at the age of 22 from a stomach infection. After Bobby’s funeral five his friends came to Dini’s house, accusing her of being a sorcerer, who had caused the death of her son. They took her out and dragged through the village to a pigsty, where they set a fire and made red-hot iron bars. Cutting her body with bush knives and burning with hot iron bars they forced her to admit that she was a witch. After numerous refusals they burned her vagina with the red-hot iron and were about to kill her, when women from another village called for help.
A woman looks down the valley from Kassam pass, Morobe province. According to the report made by the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission of Papua New Guinea in 1992, two thirds of PNG women are constantly exposed to domestic violence and about 50% of women become victims of sexual assaults. This rate goes up in Morobe Province and Highlands Region of the country, where more then 90% of surveyed women at least once in a lifetime suffered gender-based violence.

Vlad Sokhin (, Russian/Portuguese photographer, residing in Sydney, Australia. Born in 1981. Studied photography in IADE Creative University (Lisbon, Portugal), photojournalism and documentary photography in TCI Emerging Photographer Program. Participant of photojournalism workshops by photographer Sergey Maximishin in Portugal and Kenya.
Represented by “Agentur Focus”. Also collaborating with Getty Images (Australia).
In 2010-2011 worked on an independent photo-documentary project “The Spirits of Mozambique” about spiritual traditions of Mozambicans.
Currently is working on a photo-documentary project “Crying Meri” about violence against women in Papua New Guinea.

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