Trauma, Healing and Resources for Victims of Gender-based Vioelence in Papua New Guinea

Originally written for Morobe Development Foundation

By: Ann-Cathrin Jöst and Gabby Richardson

When we are born, we are dependent on our mother or another caretaker for survival. As an infant we cannot express ourselves other than through crying. Therefore, we rely on our caretaker to understand what our crying means and what needs should be fulfilled. Needs are different; a need to sleep, a need for engagement, a need for nutrients or a need for a diaper change, a need for a mothers’ soothing touch or voice, a need to feel her heartbeat, a need for care or an open cry for attention if the baby experiences stress and pain.

Some of these needs are very basic and essential for our body to survive and thrive and some of these needs are essential for healthy development of the mind and spirit. Sometimes these needs cannot be fulfilled and our ability to survive is threatened. To survive, we will adjust to a situation as best we can.  An example is a caretaker’s difficulty to translate a cry into a specific need and because of that the caretaker may ignore or punish the baby’s crying. Due to this experience baby might learn that crying is bad and will internalize that pain and stop crying. This may carry on throughout childhood.

When we were still babies or even children, this was an effective survival strategy which saved ourselves from punishment or being ignored. Internalizing emotions that were upsetting to others was our only chance to avoid being hurt and possibly accepted and loved by our caretakers. We might have also adjusted to their behavior, their beliefs and catered our needs around theirs.

Later in life and as we grow up into mature adults, this internalization of emotions may be reflected onto ourselves through self-harm, the friends we choose or how we are able to deal with conflict in social and work situations. We might even actively choose relationships or stay in relationships that are not nurturing, because we are used to our needs not being fulfilled. It scares us, that we could be loved for who we really are- that our needs and desires could be lovingly satisfied by another individual.

Breaking this cycle is difficult, because we are used to it and so we keep on wondering “Why me? Why am I attracted to a specific group of people who I know are unhealthy for me? Why do I stay in unhealthy relationships? Why are my needs not fulfilled? I better stay silent.”  While breaking the cycle is difficult, breaking the cycle is also possible. It is possible, when we think of who we are. “What are the things I like? What makes me happy? What makes me sad ? What makes me angry? What do I need? What makes me feel really loved? Who can I be around to be myself? What type of behavior makes me unhappy? How would I loved to be cared for and most of all, how can I best care for myself?”.

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Sometimes, the answer to these questions can be sad and that is okay. It is okay, because allowing us to feel emotions that we are used to hiding is one big step forward in our own healing journey.  In answering these and many more questions, we learn that every emotion is valid and every emotion has equal importance. Emotions are like feelings and when they are suppressed (e.g.: not being allowed to cry) we internalize them and because of that act in ways or engage in ways that are unhealthy to us, such as drinking too much alcohol, doing drugs or becoming violent. It could also be something simpler like avoiding someone or running away from a conflict. Now understanding and accepting our emotions, can help us heal because we can identify a need that is important to us or might have never been fulfilled or lived.

However, it can be difficult to allow us to feel every emotion, because we have been told we shouldn’t do so or some emotions like “anger” are labelled as “bad”. Anger is only bad if we act on it, but feeling it, is absolutely valid : ). Accepting it and feeling it is okay, because it can also help us understand why we feel such a way. Has someone done something that we are directly affected by and if yes, what can we do to change the situation? If we cannot change the situation, what can we do to get out of it?

Resources for Victims of Gender-based Violence in PNG

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Survival strategies and the internalization of emotions can be intensively felt and experienced by individuals suffering from trauma, abuse and violence. This is especially evident amongst women and girls in Papua New Guinea (PNG) who experience staggering rates of gender-based violence (GBV). The Human Rights Watch Papua New Guinea 2020 report highlights that over two thirds of women in PNG have experienced some form of GBV in their lifetime. There are a variety of factors that contribute to the rampant GBV situation in PNG, some of which include strict gender norms and roles, a male dominant society, forms of bride price exchange and tribal conflict. Though it is important to remember feelings of imprisonment, lack of self-worth and empowerment contribute to women’s vulnerability in abusive relationships and impede on their ability to heal. For these women it can be extra difficult to leave a threatening situation due to economic dependence and fear of resisting expectations rooted in tradition and male power.

If you are a woman living in PNG, know that there are resources and support available that can help you begin a quest for personal healing and to leave a situation that has and might still be unhealthy for you. There are several resources available such as counseling services and assistance to overcome and escape abusive situations and violence. Femili PNG has several case management centers across PNG to assist survivors of family and sexual assault. Their contact information may be found below:

Femili PNG Lae Case Management Centre

  • Email: info@femilipng.org
  • Phone: +675 7091 4027 or +675 472 8904
  • All phones are answered Mon-Fri 9:30am-5pm

Femili PNG Port Moresby Case Management Centre

  • Phone for Bel isi subscribers: +675 7055 4401
  • Other enquiries/assistance: +675 7916 9063
  • All phones are answered Mon-Fri 9:30am-5pm

Femili PNG Goroka Outpost

  • Phone: +675 72179445
  • All phones are answered Mon-Fri 9:00am-4pm

There is also a toll-free  1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain on 7150 8000 where victims of family and sexual violence may get in contact with a counsellor from any place in PNG between 7am-7pm seven days a week. This is operated by Childfund PNG.

Just need someone to listen to you? Have a look at “7 Cups”, an online platform that provides free listening services to people in need anonymously.

Health care and support services for sexual and family violence victims may be found at the Family Support Centre at Port Moresby General Hospital. Their phone number is +675 324 8245. Note: Family Support Centres may be found at all provincial hospitals in PNG.

The organization “Youth For Change PNG”, an organization which has done a lot of work in West New Britain province, promotes the health and well-being of individuals and aims to create positive change by addressing gender-based, family and sexual forms of violence in PNG. “Youth For Change PNG” focuses on healing victims of such violence through trauma informed workshops, educational approaches and practice programs grounded in culturally specific strategies and beliefs. Please contact “Youth for Change PNG” Director Lydia Kailap via WhatsApp at +675 7832 6826 and via email: lydiakailap@gmail.com.

In order for survivors of violence and abuse to leave toxic relationships and situations, they must also feel independent. Economic opportunities have proven important in assisting survivors of family and sexual violence in PNG. There are several programs across PNG which focus on empowering women through agricultural activities, such as the “Transformative Agriculture and Enterprise Development Program” (TADEP). The “PNG Women’s Business Resource Centre (WBRC)” also aims to assist women in running their business, fosters women empowerment through providing free business coaching, entrepreneurial training, networking and mentorship services.← PREVIOUS

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