Responding to the release of recent data findings on domestic violence in the Cook Islands she says knowledge, education and awareness could help change attitudes.
She believes local attitudes have led to the normalisation of domestic violence and a tendency for people to disregard and overlook its impact on families and children.
“The community needs to understand that it is mainly men who are perpetrating domestic violence.
“This is not to say women are not perpetrators as well, but clearly we have to focus on the problem at hand, which is caused 90 per cent of the time, by men.
“If we don’t understand this, we are also to blame for making excuses and justifying violence against women.
“The problem continues as the blame is shifted to the victim. This can prevent people from coming forward, including some witnesses who even think about withdrawing their complaints or downplaying problems, because they are afraid of what (the perpetrator) can do to her again and again and again.
“We have to be mindful about what we are contributing to this problem in our communities, especially when community leaders, and influential people can make a difference.
“When a behaviour is not clearly condemned we encourage the continuation, by allowing the violence to continue in our community.”
Buchanan says Cook Islanders’ perception of masculinity and the way children are socialised into gender roles has a huge impact on the high domestic violence statistics.
“When we look at relationships between a perpetrator and victim, the behaviour between them is usually uneven. He is usually more in control in regards to what happens in “his” household.
“It is important to note there is nothing wrong with being the head of the household, except when violence is present.
“I agree with what police have identified as a pattern of violence.”
Buchanan says that as well as being seen as “normal” within Cook Islands culture, domestic violence forms a cycle which often sees children subjected to abuse. Later in life, those young victims tend to adopt the same behaviour.
“This behaviour has been culturally and emotionally embedded in the individuals. The work that PTI does, sees children exposed to violence – and later in life acting out in the same way, or falling victim to someone who acts violently.
“It is planted in the person from a very young age. They see their own mummy and daddy live this violent life style, so it becomes this dangerous cycle of violence - and they believe that it is simply a normal way of living,” Buchanan said.
Asked why perpetrators continue to offend, even after being caught and convicted, Buchanan says the lenient sentencing is partially to blame. She said the Ministry of Justice’s approach is seeing more and more defendants let off with a warning.
“Repeat offenders must be treated seriously. Counselling is not enough, especially when someone is not prepared to accept responsibility for their actions, or when they don’t even see what they are doing as wrong.
“People have suggested boot camps (to encourage) behaviour change. I’m not sure whether this is something that will work, but I do believe we need another service in place, because the current one is clearly not working.
“Members of the community working closely together with perpetrators of domestic violence, guiding, mentoring and supporting them to stay on the straight and narrow, would be the most ideal approach.”
Buchanan says when relationships break down, so does the communication and that’s where, believes Punanga Tauturu is able to help.
“Rebuilding this (communication) through counselling can help. It takes time and practice for couples to re-learn, but there’s no shame in it. As one mama said, “tauta, tauta, tauta uatu rae” - try and try and don’t give up until you have perfected it.”
Violence against women and children is a clear violation of their human rights, says Buchanan.
“Being exposed to domestic violence in one’s own home is cruel and cowardly, often perpetrated by someone who does not respect themselves and anyone else.
“This is the ugly truth about domestic violence, and we see the pattern of cruelty being inflicted upon women time after time.
“When are we going to say enough is enough? And when are the perpetrators going to look at themselves and start addressing the anger that is within them?
“Only they themselves can start the healing process, but we, the Cook Islands can support anyone who tries,” Buchanan said.