A major breakthrough for survivors of family and sexual violence occurred in May 2016 when Lae’s National Court sentenced a couple to a total of 50 years in prison with hard labour for persistent sexual abuse of a child under the age of 16.
Judge Frazer Pitpit sentenced the perpetrators – identified as the survivor’s aunt and her de-facto partner – to 25 years’ imprisonment each. The female perpetrator, however, was deemed to be an accomplice and will serve 10 years in prison and the other 15 years on a good behaviour bond.
Anna* was sent to live with her aunt and her partner after the death of her father. She was 13 years old when the couple began sexually abusing and physically assaulting her. She fell pregnant and was forced to abandon her education, and experienced severe psychological trauma.
In November 2014, Anna was referred to Femili PNG by the Office of the Public Prosecutor. While awaiting the National Court hearing, Femili PNG helped repatriate Anna and her mother, who reported the abuse to police after becoming aware of it, to Wewak. “Femili PNG was very new at that time when I consulted them for their help,” said the Victim Liaison Officer (VLO) at the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
In May 2016, the VLO and the Investigating Police Officer requested Femili PNG’s assistance again. Femili PNG met all travel, food and accommodation costs for Anna and her mother to appear before the court. “Without Femili PNG’s assistance, we could not have prosecuted the case,” the VLO said. The VLO continued, “I am very pleased with the timely assistance Femili PNG provided. Without their help, we could not have achieved this result.”
After an eight-day trial, on Thursday, 19th May, the National Court Room No. 3 was at capacity. The atmosphere was tense as curious members of the public stood shoulder to shoulder to witness the outcome of the landmark case. The judge entered and the two accused were summoned.
Judge Pitpit read aloud the findings of the trial. Both accused categorically denied guilt.
After three long hours of deliberation, the Judge concluded that there was overwhelming evidence to sentence the two accused. Judge Pitpit concluded that the couple lied to the court and their plea of innocence was untrue. He said the statements provided by the victim and the witness were factual.
In the past, authorities have struggled to prosecute such cases, making this outcome particularly significant. “This was one of the very few cases we’ve successfully prosecuted,” the Arresting Officer said. The Arresting Officer continued, “most times, when there are no witnesses, cases like this are thrown out. But with good networking and collaboration with other organisations and individuals, we have created history.”
Anna and her mother were very thankful and expressed gratitude towards all the institutions who supported them, including Femili PNG. Anna’s mother said that without Femili PNG, they could not have come back to Lae to provide their statements. She acknowledged all those who assisted them from the very beginning of the process until they achieved justice.
She said, “I am very pleased and thankful to Family Support Center at Angau Hospital, Welfare, Australian Federal Police, Victim Liaison Office, the police and everybody who helped us in this case. All your hard work in assisting my daughter has paid off. I wish to specifically thank Femili PNG. We did not have any money to pay for plane tickets and you helped. Thank you.” She continued, “Now, I am looking forward to focusing on my children’s education and to build a better future for them.”
The survivor, Anna, said, “The pain will be with me for many years to come, but I’m happy that justice has been done.” She added, “I am happy to be back at school. But it will take a long while for me to forget what happened to me.”
Femili PNG is supported by the Australian Government in partnership with the Government of Papua New Guinea as part of the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program.
If you are a survivor of family or sexual violence in PNG and require assistance, contact us.
*Not her real name