I was reading the opinion piece in your Friday edition ‘Prosecutorial Injustice’. When we are talking about a victim’s rights in this country, before a case even gets to the Prosecution office, we need a police force that are appropriately skilled and resourced and capable of investigating a case and apprehending the suspects. This for me, is the key to victims’ rights — not the ability to hire a private lawyer if you happen to be lucky enough to have the money to do so. I actually want the state to prosecute. I want to feel that the nation, the state, wants these people to be put away; that it is not just between my lawyer, me, and the accused, but the whole country condemns it.
Unfortunately I speak from personal experience. I, along with my cousin and her husband who were visiting Vanuatu from New Zealand, were viciously attacked on the night of 30 August 2019. I don’t remember much from the attack — I was knocked unconscious very quickly. But I do know that at least one of us could have died that night if we were not able to get to the VMF who luckily were in the bush for the next day’s Piste Bleu, and helped us get to Pro Medical and through them to the hospital. My jaw was fractured in three places, my cousin suffered head injuries, a broken jaw, broken ribs, a broken eye socket and all the bones on her left hand were broken. And she was raped. My cousin’s husband suffered a fractured skull and jaw and a broken hand.
That is just the physical trauma.
The emotional trauma is harder to describe, can’t be seen or quantified, but it stays with me and likely will for the rest of my life in some form. I have struggled to come to terms with what happened to me — but mostly also what happened to my cousin and her husband and how this could have happened to them when they were visiting me here. The brutality is shocking and I don’t think I will ever understand it.
The men who did this to us have not yet been caught and with each month that passes I begin to fear they never will be. I have a huge amount of respect for the work of police — it is an extremely difficult job and I do understand that VPF faces its own resourcing challenges. The crumbling state of the police station in Vila, which has been vacated, cannot have helped Police morale. Neither can the seemingly never-ending disputes and turmoil in the higher ranks. But my experience has opened my eyes to the need for citizens of Vanuatu to put pressure on our Government to improve our policing services.
And I can only imagine the number of other victims of rapes, beatings and other serious crimes that experience what I have and whose attackers have never been brought to justice.
Not only do we live with the knowledge that these people are still out there — we fear they will find us again, or they will do it again to someone else — and next time it will be even worse. Indeed in the sphere of domestic violence they may be living with the perpetrator from day to day.
If we really want to support victim’s rights, we must advocate for a high quality and accountable policing service. Of course not every case can be solved — but victims should feel that all efforts have been made to investigate a case to the fullest extent. Without this, the sense of injustice continues to haunt you.
Vanuatu’s security challenges are not going to get easier — the divide between rich and poor is growing, climate change will bring more natural disasters, more and more people move to towns in the hope of finding work that isn’t here. If we don’t improve our policing services now, I hate to think what the future holds for us.