Content warnings: This story contains descriptions of sexual abuse of a minor and rape.
In early 2009, Ruthy, six years old at that time, went to a local market with her mother to sell betelnuts and cigarettes to earn income to sustain their livelihood in Lae City.
Ruthy was upset when her mother did not buy her ice cream, so she went a little further from where her mother was. She was tricked by a stranger who pretended to be her uncle.
He lured her with sweets and took Ruthy to the Highlands bus stop at Eriku where he said that they would go on a short bus trip and then return to her mother.
The man took Ruthy to his village in Eastern Highlands Province where he held her captive, and raped her continuously.
This led to arguments between him and his wife. Because of the arguments, the man’s sister sold Ruthy to another family for K200 (about $AU85). Ruthy was then treated as a “hausmeri” (housemaid) for five years. During this time, she also cared for another child with physical disabilities.
Getting Ruthy back home
While Ruthy was held captive in Goroka, her father used every means possible to search for his daughter.
He placed a missing person’s report at the police station in Lae and went to other provinces in the Highlands, including Madang and Sepik, but his search was unsuccessful. He also went on radio both in Lae and Goroka with the help of Morobe FM.
In October 2014, at the age of 11, Ruthy managed to escape back to Lae and searched for her family with the help of another woman in the village. She was given directions to the local market in Lae from where she was kidnapped. From there, she was able to find her way home and was reunited with her family.
Ruthy at Femili PNG
Ruthy received medical treatment at the Family Support Centre at Angau Memorial Hospital and then was referred to Femili PNG (FPNG) on 11 November 2014.
FPNG was newly established at that time and had just begun its operations in Lae. After Ruthy’s intake as FPNG’s client, her case was reported to the Lae Sexual Offences Squad (SOS) at the Lae Central Police Station.
Unfortunately, the Lae SOS couldn’t assist because the abuse occurred in Goroka, and this was out of their jurisdiction. The Lae Criminal Investigation Division (CID) registered the case for abduction, but the rape case was referred to the Goroka SOS as the incident occurred in Goroka.
There were a lot of challenges when FPNG tried to coordinate with partners in Lae, Goroka and even Australia to ensure that Ruthy’s case was given the priority it deserved and appropriate legal advice.
This was because of issues such as the location of Ruthy’s parents – her father was a resident of Lae and her mother was living in her village in the Southern Highlands Province. The travel and accommodation costs associated with her parents seeing detectives in Goroka were covered by FPNG.
Ruthy’s file went missing and FPNG collected each witness statement again, compiled the file and sent it through Express Air Carrier to Goroka SOS.
The case continues
After the case was formally handed to Goroka SOS in October 2015, the police attempted to arrest the man but couldn’t locate him.
In August 2016, he was finally arrested and the case went through the committal process at the Goroka District Court in September 2016. He was remanded in custody until his matter was committed to the National Court in Goroka in February 2017. The trial was scheduled for November 2017, but due to the court vacation period, it was rescheduled to March 2018.
Two weeks before the trial date in Goroka, FPNG’s Child Protection Officer (CPO) coordinated with partners in Lae and Goroka to provide the necessary support to Ruthy and her family, such as the accommodation and travel expenses from Lae to Goroka and back. This made it possible for all crucial state witnesses to be on the ground in Goroka when the matter was called for trial to commence.
Justice for Ruthy
On 29 March 2018, the Goroka National Court sentenced the 35-year-old perpetrator to 23 years imprisonment for kidnapping and sexual abuse of a minor.
Ruthy’s father expressed his deepest gratitude for the assistance that FPNG provided him and his daughter since 2014. He said, “there were delays along the way, and the process in getting justice seemed too long which caused me to have doubts on whether the case would go through to court.”
He said that even though it took years, he was very happy that a local NGO such as Femili PNG existed at the time to support him in getting justice for his daughter.
“I felt that I had the support I needed. Femili PNG really supported me like a family, and this gave me the strength to pursue the case. I firmly believe that had it not been for Femili PNG, this case would not have been pursued through to the end”, he added.
He concluded that most times a lot of people give up along the way because of the delays, and don’t get the justice they deserve. He said, “regardless of how long it may take, or the challenges that will cause you to have doubts and give up, don’t give up, pursue justice until you get it.” He wanted to encourage people to never give up in pursuing justice, and for service providers and NGOs to continue and work closely together so that positive outcomes can be achieved.
With effective coordination between FPNG and partners such as FSC at ANGAU Memorial Hospital, Welfare Offices of Goroka and Lae, Goroka SOS, Goroka District and National Courts, Public Prosecutor’s Goroka Office, Kafe Women’s Association, justice was received for the girl who went through this horrific ordeal at a very young age.
Ruthy is now safe with her family who are very supportive to her. Her disappearance had cost the marriage of her parents and they are currently living separately. However, they are both providing the support that she needs.
Although the Ruthy’s trauma is still triggered from time to time, she has displayed incredible strength in overcoming her experience. She has rebuilt her self-esteem and is determined to complete her education. In fact, in 2017 she achieved a dux award from her school.
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