Perspective is everything. So it is understandable that good, decent men from some of the islands in Micronesia may have been upset by my column, “Wanted: A Culture Where Rape is Not Acceptable” (published in the November 2019 issue of the Pacific Island Times).
I pointed out a problem where prosecutors on Guam are having difficulty speaking with child victims of alleged sexual assaults because family members (some of these families are from Guam, others from islands in the region) make it difficult, for various reasons, for authorities to interview the child. Thus, the case against the alleged perpetrator gets dropped.
This problem is not unique to our island or our region. It was not my intent to single out one culture in particular, but to bring awareness to the fact that sexual assault, and the problems we face in trying to address it, are indeed issues in our corner of the Pacific, as they are everywhere, unfortunately.
As one might expect, the responses from men and women in Micronesia who felt I had singled out their culture were very different. All of the men were offended, and told me so in no uncertain terms. “Rape is NOT acceptable” in our culture,” they all said. Many of the women offered a different viewpoint.
Here are a few of the email responses, which have been edited for space while still including the responders’ main points.
Samuel: “I'm sure you know by now, families in Micronesia are close-knit, and I mean families stay together unless they have the means to move away. This, although not the main reason, prevents assaults like these from happening... Even though one has a malice intent or sexual desires toward another one, it rarely happens because they know the consequences they will face. Although it happens in some cases, it is not because of the culture, but it may be the family is devoid of strong relationships.
“Contrary to what you've heard from others you've spoken to, it rarely happens. I'm not dismissing the fact that it does happen sometimes, but if one or two people are speaking up, doesn't always mean it happens everywhere in Micronesia. But that is what the article makes of it. What I think is the case in Guam with other Micronesians is that, people move there individually most of the time. Because they have no other means of starting out on their own, relatives take them in, no matter how far they are apart on the family tree…
“You have people who have never seen each other before forced to live together because of lack of options to handle the cost of living. Then, those things happen… Bad behaviors are not learned from one's culture, they are born out of lack of options and devoid of a good guide.”
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, sexual assault is a severely under-reported crime: Only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about three out of four sexual assaults go unreported.
So if one or two women are speaking up, you can bet it is happening to more than just that one or two. The following women’s responses back up those statistics.
Francesca: “I enjoyed your article and I’m glad you’re bringing attention to this because it is a HUGE (her all caps emphasis, not mine) problem. The men are aggressive and do not take no for an answer. It’s more like a challenge. My father is from there and I grew up in America. I’ve gone back for visits and I know firsthand how big of an issue this is. I think part of the problem is the amount of pornography they watch. Porn basically teaches consent doesn’t matter…”
Ripwo: “After reading your article in the Pacific Island Times, I wanted to thank you for delivering a voice for a thousand, unheard voices of Micronesian women who do not have the courage to come forward on such particular issues. I totally agree with you that we must put all effort and focus on bringing in the perpetrators of such crimes in the spotlight.
“Women must not consider shame an option for an excuse of not bringing in these monsters. Efforts are required to help such girls/women to speak out and not to keep hiding behind the curtains. I hope your message in your article will touch and spark something in the minds of such victims of such crimes.
“However, as a Micronesian young man, I was a little bit kind of confused and offended by some information in your article. I wanted to let you know that rape is not an acceptable cultural norm here in Micronesia. When convicted of such crime, an individual will face consequences according to law. I have never been to another island in Micronesia where such act is culturally accepted for everyone.”
Note the onus here on the women: “Women must not consider shame an option for an excuse of not bringing in these monsters.” The question here is why are the women made to feel ashamed? And, “Efforts are required to help such girls/women to speak out and not to keep hiding behind the curtains. I hope your message in your article will touch and spark something in the minds of such victims of such crimes.”
How about we spark something in the minds of the perpetrators? How about the majority of the men who do not commit sexual assault talk to the minority of men who do, and to their own sons, nephews, etc., about how sexual assault is a crime? How about we focus on getting these “monsters” NOT to commit sexual assault?
Sally (her unique name has been changed to avoid any possible repercussion): “This article brings out a very sensitive issue for the FSM. I am glad she did expose it. We have few individuals who have committed rape and still not prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. For instance, a man from Kipar, Kitti was raping disabled girls and he is still running loose and not in jail. Once I arrive in Pohnpei, I will file charges against this person. We should not tolerate this kind of behavior in our communities.”
Gina (responding to Sally’s comment): “I totally agree. Same cases here in Chuuk as well. They are slowly exposing some, but I bet there are still a few loose ones.”
There is no one-size-fits-all easy solution to stopping this heinous crime. I want to thank those of you who took the time to respond. Your discussion - especially if you were upset about what I wrote - is creating awareness.
And awareness is key to stopping sexual assault - here, there, and everywhere.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.