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Justice for whom? Resolving sexual violence in Bena, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

Justice for whom? Resolving sexual violence in Bena, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), sexual violence (SV) is widespread and best practices are being implemented to improve responses to SV. One area has been legislate and programing reform. Such reforms aim to increase access to legal support for victims of SV to pursue prosecution of the perpetrator, a process predicated on the reporting such acts.

As part of a qualitative longitudinal study on masculinity in Bena, Eastern Highlands, young men were interviewed on three occasions; the final interview addressed men’s knowledge and experiences of SV (N=18). Interviews were conducted in Tok Pisin, digitally recorded, transcribed verbatim, translated into English and coded in Nvivo 9.
SV is common in this community and most knew that such violence was illegal, yet many believed that there were times when (and to whom) SV was justified. Despite the illegal nature of SV, most acts of SV recounted were not dealt with through the law enforcement agencies. Local, culturally sanctioned means of dealing with SV in the community were preferred; responses depended on the relationship between the “victim” and the perpetrator. Local approaches to resolving SV were important for maintaining ongoing social and reciprocal relationships rather than individual justice to an individual victim. Compensation is ordered for “victim’s” relatives validating the damage of SV to the collective.

The stark contrast between best practices which privilege the international criminal justice system, a system that advocates pro-prosecution which finds an individual person accountable for SV and how SV is resolved locally begs the question of justice for whom? The former is based on western notions of individual personhood and responsibility while the latter is based on reciprocal social relationships. The ways that SV is resolved locally will only change as wider socio-cultural structures do.

Speakers: Herick Aeno
Conference: ASHM 2013

Australian Society for HIV 2013

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