It’s supported by the Australian government through the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development programme and Punanga Tauturu centre coordinator Rebekah Buchanan hopes the availability of aid will encourage more domestic abuse survivors to come forward.
We’ve seen some of the reasons why women don’t come out and seek help,” Buchanan said.
“There are people in the community who will blame women for the problem, and some feel a lot of guilt and shame because there is still a stigma (around domestic violence). There is also that staying together, no matter what, mentality.”
Buchanan said that whenever Punanga Tauturu workers go out into the community they try and emphasise that there is a support system in place.
The funding came about after the Australian government approached the organisation with the aim of putting money into specific areas of need, such as domestic and gender-based violence.
Buchanan, whose role has been working with survivors and spreading awareness of problems with domestic violence in the Cook Islands, said legal aid was there for when relationships broke down.
“When a family is affected by domestic violence, what happens then?
“This is where the legal aid comes in, through the lawyers to arrange maintenance, custody of the children, some arrangements where parents get shared custody, and (sorting out) where the children ought to be during the week.
“That’s an arrangement that they can agree on without violence.”
Aid also goes into organising protection orders which ensure the abuser cannot visit the victim’s residence whenever they please.
Counselling and legal advice are also included in the fund, with the former an area that Buchanan encourages as the first port of call, while the latter can simply explain what paths are available.
Since the funding became available on January 25, Buchanan said about nine women have accessed it. All are at different stages of seeking help and she is encouraged that they actually came forward to talk about their problems.
“We’re not here to tell women what they should do, we’re very careful about that,” Buchanan explains.
“I’m working with clients where we’ve gone past the halfway line, and you can see the confidence, knowing and understanding that eventually comes. Because power and control of domestic violence are all part of the problem and the sooner we get in to help these women, the better.”
To access legal aid, Buchanan encourages people to call Punanga Tauturu on 21133.
“We’ll fill in an application form and a lawyer is brought in to do the work.
“Any woman affected by domestic violence, that includes children’s issues, like custody, maintenance, protection orders, please call Punanga Tauturu and we will look at that.”