Many of us I am sure either know a friend or family in Vanuatu who has been the victim of domestic violence at the hands of a spouse, de facto partner, boyfriend or other family member. Maybe we ourselves have been a victim. Over the last few years there have been increasing campaigns to educate and end domestic violence against women and children in this country. It has been a slow process and for many victims of violence it seems to be a cycle they will never get out of. For many, they do not even know where to go or what steps to take to end the violence. Today we will be discussing this topic and looking at the Family Protection Act of 2008 to help us understand what victims can do to protect themselves. You can find the law which is easy to read on the paclii website or through a google search.
What is domestic violence?
Section 4 of the Act tells us that domestic violence is committed by a person if he or she:
- Beats or hits you or any family member even if there is no physical evidence of injury.
- Psychologically abuses, harasses or intimates you or any family member.
- Stalks you or a family member which causes you to be afraid.
- Behaves in an indecent or offensive manner to you or a family member.
- Damages or causes damage to your property or that of a family member.
- Threatens to do any of the acts in (a) to (e) mentioned here.
What is considered psychological abuse?
Psychological abuse is any kind of mental or emotional abuse against you or a family member. Examples of this type of abuse would be:
- Calling you bad names,
- Yelling at you,
- Embarrassing you in public in a way that makes people think less of you or degrades you,
- Isolates you, that is, they keep you away from or try to keep you away from your family or friends and even your children,
- They monitor where you are going or control where you can go. Take your phone or go through your phone.
- They control access to the family money.
- They do not include you in decisions about your life, your children, the family, but expect you to obey without question.
These are just a few examples of mental and emotional abuse but there are so many more. A simple search on the internet will give you many more examples that you will recognise if you are a victim of this type of abuse.
What does Stalking mean?
Section 4(2) of the Act explains what this is. If someone stalks you or a family member it means that they may:
- Follow you around; or
- Watch you; or
- Hang about where you live, work or places you go to for socialising or entertainment purposes, like the cinema; or
- Frequently call you on your phone where you live or work.
It is important to note that even if someone only does any one of these acts once, it is still defined under the law as an act of domestic violence BUT, if the person only does one act which by itself may appear to be minor, a number of the same or different acts can form part of a pattern of behaviour that can be defined as domestic violence.
Is an act of domestic violence a criminal offence?
From talking to and dealing with many victims of domestic violence it would appear that the majority of persons think that domestic violence is not a criminal offence. They seem to think that a victim’s only remedy is to get a protection order from the court to prevent the abuser from coming near them. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE PUNISHABLE UNDER THE LAW.
Anyone who commits any act of domestic violence as mentioned above is guilty of a crime and they can be punished by sending them to prison for up to 5 years or fined up to VT100,000 or sent to prison and fined.
If the victim is the wife of the abuser, the abuser cannot try to avoid going to jail or paying a fine by saying that he has paid a custom bride price to the victim. He can also be charged with other crimes under the Penal Code of Vanuatu other than just domestic violence. And finally, an abuser cannot say that he did not commit the act but it was done by somebody else if there is evidence that he made the other person or persons commit the act against you or a family member.
It is important to note therefore that if you are a victim of domestic violence you are not only entitled to apply for a protection order but you can ask for a charge to be brought against your abuser which he will have to answer before the court.
Who can apply for a protection order?
- A biological child, adopted child or foster child of the abuser;
- A child who may not be related to the abuser but which he/she is taking care of in their home;
- The spouse/partner of the abuser;
- A child of the abuser’s spouse;
- A parent of the abuser or the parent of the abuser’s spouse/partner;
- A brother or sister of the abuser or a brother or sister of the abuser’s spouse/partner;
- Any other person in the abuser’s family who is treated as a member of the family;
If you are not physically or mentally able to go to court or to face your abuser in court to make an application for a protection order you can give a verbal or written consent for a friend or family member to make the application on your behalf.
Next week we will continue with this topic to discuss how you can make this kind of application and what to expect when you go to court.