That is the gravity of the sexual abuse alleged to occur in the Cook Islands, according to one of the country’s most experienced counsellors, Thomas Wynne. “It’s everywhere,” he said.
In his capacity counselling abuse survivors, Wynne was prompted to speak out after a young Fijian woman claimed she had been assaulted in the Cooks.
He had talked with the woman’s lawyer and offered his support, saying there were victims here who suffered the same fate.
Over the past nine years, he said, he had dealt counselled young women who had been sexually abused by a stepfather or uncle.
To protect the victims’ confidentiality, Wynne could not detail the extent of the abuse – but he did describe the case of the older man who bought groceries for a family, so that the mother would let him sleep with her daughter. She was prostituting her daughter, he said.
He would not want to count the number of times he had to sit with men and women who had been sexually abused: it was terrible.
There were too many cases similar to what the Fijian woman claimed to have experienced. “I have spoken about it in schools and talked about early warning signs.”
Every case was different. People needed to understand sexual abuse was not about sex, but about power.
“Generally speaking it is a situation where someone is having power over someone else,” he explained. “The fact that he is having sex with her is secondary to the fact that his exercising power over her, the victim becomes powerless, victims can’t speak up because they feel powerless.
“It’s not until someone supports them, that they feel empowered to talk about their story. There are shames attached to it, shames that make sure the victim doesn’t talk about it.”
Abuse was not talked about much, despite being so prevalent.
Often the perpetrator had themselves suffered sexual abuse; the abuse destroyed both the victim and the abuser.
According to Te Ata o te Ngakau, the 2014 Cook Islands Family Health Safety Survey Report, 32.3 per cent of Cook Islands women suffered from sexual violence by a partner or husband. That abuse rate was 23 per cent in the Northern Group, 27.3 per cent on Rarotonga, and 44 per cent in the rest of the Southern Group.
Girls as young as 15 years of age were forced to have sex or perform sexual acts, the report found.
The main perpetrators were male family and friends.
As this article went to press, the latest figures on sexual abuse cases could not be obtained from police.
Cook Islands Police Services have also confirmed that they had not received any update, notifications or advice from the authorities in Fiji in regards to the allegations made by the woman who has laid the complaint.