Return to Abuser

In Papua New Guinea violence is widespread, with disturbing levels of family and sexual violence directed towards women and children.

Trigger Warning: this story contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to people who have similar experiences.

My husband then said that since my daughter has been raped before he would also do it. Then he raped her in front of me. He asked me to join in. I refused. I was just crying. There was nothing I could do.”

Safe House, Port Moresby

Recognition of a serious problem

In Papua New Guinea violence is widespread, with disturbing levels of family and sexual violence directed towards women and children. A 2013 study of 10,000 men across ten Asia-Pacific countries found the highest rates of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea, where, in one location, one in five women’s first experience of sex was rape and one third of men had experienced sexual abuse as children.

A serious but neglected issue for too long, when MSF first began running projects to support survivors of family and sexual violence, national capacity and expertise to provide assistance in-country was limited. What services did exist were fragmented and piecemeal, and psychosocial support was almost entirely absent.

Today, there is growing recognition that this violence is a national problem and there have been some notable improvements to address the issue in recent years, with authorities identifying gender-based violence as a public health and social emergency and a major threat to the country’s development. Nevertheless, there is still so much more to do.

Since 2009 MSF has treated 27,993 survivors of family and sexual violence care in the country and carried out 68,840 major and minor surgeries, one third of which were for violence-related injuries. MSF teams have also run trainings in around 50 health centres across the country, and trained other service providers - such as police units for family and sexual violence and community leaders - about survivors needs for timely medical and psychosocial care.

Almost  70 per cent children

Two out of three (69%) of all survivors of sexual violence that MSF treated in Port Moresby, from January 2014 to June 2015, were children under the age of 18. In Tari, across 2014 and 2015, at least two out of five (46%) of all the survivors of sexual violence that MSF treated were younger than 18. The majority (91%) of these children had been raped. However, across the country there is a serious lack of adapted services for abused minors. A lack of temporary shelters or alternative care, and children’s inability to effectively access the justice system, means that they are frequently forced to return to their abusers.

Call for greater protection

On March 1, 2016, MSF released the report ‘Return to Abuser’. It identifies where positive steps have been taken particularly in medical and psychosocial care but where the major gaps remain: namely - the complete lack of protection for women and child survivors. There are only six safe houses in the country, and five of them are in the capital, Port Moresby and none of them accept unaccompanied minors. For those who report abuse to Police, a lack of appropriate training and an under-staffed Police force means abusers are rarely brought to justice.

The overall message of this report is that these gaps in services and protection systems must not force survivors to remain with or return to their abusers to experience repeated, worsening violence. These gaps mean that medical and psychosocial care, while vital, is relegated to patching up survivors between abuse sessions, making survivors double victims of their abusers and system failures.