Case management

A life away from violence – answering the hard questions


Kath Taplin

Tracking down families of clients can be challenging work in PNG.
Tracking down families of clients can be challenging work in remote areas of PNG.

How many jobs require you to be a detective, small business adviser, cost-of-living analyst, security assessor, accommodation coordinator, travel consultant, government liaison and family relations intermediary?

These are just some of the roles that Femili PNG’s caseworkers assume on a daily basis.

When a client expresses a wish to go home, or to find somewhere else to live far away from violence, there is much work to be done and some hard questions to answer. There is no such thing as a ‘simple plan’.

Case workers are ready for these discussions with people surviving violence.

The decision to move and start a new life is tough, but may be the best way to leave violence behind. It is a decision that must be made by the client. The case worker’s role is to support the client’s own decision-making through what is a very stressful, confusing period of their lives.

Since starting operations a year ago, the Case Management Centre that Femili PNG runs in Lae has helped 17 women and their children repatriate. (For the differences, between repatriation, relocation and reintegration, see this very useful explanation.)

Since each case is different, case workers talk with the client and help them to explore their reasoning. They offer themselves up as an experienced sounding board, while their client thinks through sometimes difficult options.

Case workers ask the questions the survivor – in most cases a woman – must answer. If she talks of relocating to Port Moresby, the case worker will check awareness of the cost of day-to-day life, i.e. exorbitant.

If the survivor talks of moving to a village, the case worker asks who she knows there. Case workers put straightforward, but often hard-to-answer questions to their clients: Where will you sleep, and how will you make some money? How will you feed your children?

Often clients feel their family or friends will support them. Based on years of experience, case workers will draw out whether, realistically, the family their client plans to live with can support an additional person (or people) in their home. Case workers ascertain how many of the client’s extended family members have jobs and secure incomes, along with a genuine willingness to support extra dependents.

Moving does not always stop the violence. In January 2015 a woman known as Misala, along with three other women living in a Highlands community, were accused of sorcery, reportedly after a paid ‘witch-finder’ made allegations against them. Police, missionaries and others worked with the community in an attempt to prevent any sorcery-related murders. They also assisted Misala to leave the community to live with family elsewhere. On 10 May 2015, ABC News reported that Misala was axed to death by a group of ten men. Anton Lutz, a Lutheran Missionary, said Misala was vulnerable as, at the time of the murder, she was in a remote location with limited phone or radio communications.

Given the high level of risks, security considerations are comprehensively worked through. The location the survivor moves to may have to be kept confidential, and safe travel must be arranged. Supportive contacts in the receiving village or town must be established and accommodation must be adequate. Anyone proposing to move to a new location without accommodation or adequate support would be exceedingly vulnerable – such moves are not supported. The client’s proposed changes to her or his life need to be sustainable, leading to an improved existence and not more hardship.

Femili PNG case workers always encourage the development of not just a ‘Relocation Plan A’, but also a ‘Plan B’, and perhaps ‘C’. They help develop the client’s thoughts into structured plans for the future. This is an incredibly important process that, done well, can mean the difference between destitution, and a chance at a better life.

As one of our case workers described it: we help our clients in structuring their thoughts by first working on the overwhelming feelings of fear, uncertainty and confusion, through consistent dialogue and follow-up, in order to help them process all these emotions. We do this until the client is able to take control. Then slowly, the case worker works on the thoughts leading to the client being able to plan rationally, planning that is not easy, but will change her whole life afterwards.” (Femili PNG Case Worker)

If, after deliberation, the client is confident of their plan to move, a case conference is facilitated involving partners such as police, Department for Community Development and court representatives. If the survivor is moving to another province, contact is made with available services in that province to ensure assistance and follow-up will be undertaken with the client and her children. Coordination of all involved stakeholders is critical to improved long-term outcomes. The discussions take on more complexity and planning when children are involved. Of paramount consideration is each child’s wellbeing and, of course, adherence to laws relating to minors.

Sometimes case workers assist with repatriations of survivors unable to recall precisely where they once lived. This may occur when the client moved from their home village at a young age. Case workers must operate creatively in these cases. They discuss with the client what local landmarks they recall from childhood. They prompt their client’s memory for the names of people they once knew. Slowly, often through painstaking detective work, case workers then piece together the woman’s location of origin and start family tracing. They make contact with people in the area. Word of mouth is powerful, and Femili PNG case workers have found nearly all people contacted during the tracing processes attempt to be very helpful throughout. They are heartened by the community spirit they uncover. None recall being rebuffed when making tracing enquiries.

The barriers faced are very real, however. Often, after years of abuse, survivors have become isolated and unable to maintain close relationships. In some cases, violent and controlling abusers have prevented access to mobile phones and family and friends’ contact details, leaving clients without the basic information and the confidence needed to assist case workers.

Aside from overcoming challenges, future plans must be transformed into concrete arrangements. Case workers encourage survivors to talk about what a different future, free from violence, might look like for them. Inevitably, discussions turn to ideas of self-reliance and of generating an income. Some of Femili PNG’s clients have started small businesses, such as selling products at a road side stall. One client achieved her goal of restarting her copra business in her home town. Case workers can help clients apply for an injection of funds from Femili’s ‘Business Start Up Kit’.

Promisingly, survivors’ families are, more often than not, ready to assist. Femili PNG’s case workers describe feelings of genuine relief when they place calls to parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, to explain their client’s dire situation and hope to relocate to a safer place, with children alongside.

As one Femili PNG case worker put it, “it feels so good when you call, and they say ‘please bring them home’”.

Femili PNG works with a range of partners that together comprise a system supporting survivors of violence in Lae: the Morobe Provincial Government Division for Community Development, the Lae District Court, Lae Provincial Police Family Sexual Violence Unit (assisted by advisers from the Australian Federal Police), the Sexual Offences Squad, the Public Prosecutor, Angau Hospital Family Support Centre (FSC), City Mission, Salvation Army and others.

PNG networks critical to helping survivors of violence to relocate, repatriate and reintegrate include the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee (FSVAC) at National and Provincial level, the Highlands Human Rights Defenders Network, and networks within the Department for Community Development, operating in conjunction with other government agencies.

A range of PNG organisations work hard to assist to eliminate violence against women in PNG through assisting to provide emergency accommodation, relocation, paralegal assistance and counselling. These include, but are not limited to: Kup Women of Peace, Kafe Urban Settlers Women’s Association, Voice for Change, Nana Kundi Crisis Centre, Mama Emma Crisis Centre, St. Anna’s Crisis Centre, Family for Change, Madang Provincial Council of Women, Lifeline Port Moresby, Papua Hahine Social Action Forum, Kedu Seif Haus, and many more.

Femili PNG is supported by the Australian Aid Program, Oxfam PNG, The Australian National University and others. Oxfam, funded by the Australian Government, published important research relating to some of these issues in their report: The Long Way Home – relocation of survivors of gender-based violence in PNG (2013).

If you would like to support Femili PNG’s work with survivors of violence, please visit our donate page.