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RUTA MAVE: ‘This is the cultural issue that needs attention’

Monday 12 December 2022 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Opinion


RUTA MAVE: ‘This is the cultural issue that needs attention’
Ruta Tangiiau Mave. Photo: CI NEWS

There has been a lot of talk about culture lately and what constitutes how it defines us, as a society. If we accept culture is the ideas, customs and social behavior of a particular people, then we accept wearing ei katus and the giving of eis at the airport and award ceremonies as one of our more lovely cultural practices. If social behaviour defines us, then eating and drinking is foremost our larger problem of culture as we battle a health crisis of obesity and NCDs. Domestic violence and abuse are cultural too.

In 2018 Harvey Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in jail. Eighty women came forward with allegations of abuse over several years, this was the first-time the truth came to light. The #MeToo movement started calling attention to the frequency women and girls experience sexual assault and harassment. Women finally spoke out because nothing will change what happened to them in the past, but they could change the future for their daughters and other women. We have women in our culture who have experienced the same by men in high ranks.

“Education is needed to address the culture of domestic violence in the Cook Islands”, said Daryl Gregory the co-ordinator of men’s counselling service Te POM. “It’s due to a number of issues, and alcohol is not the cause of violence, it contributes to them feeling less responsible and it is not unexpected after major sporting events”. From the government he says “there is little to no funding for services or to recruit and train people to work in the field” This is the cultural issue that needs attention”.

September 25 was White Ribbon Day, the International Day of Eradication of violence against women.

In August 2020, a high-profile sport executive assaults three women, slapping them with flat side of a machete at 2.30am after drinking. The court case was held in April 2022 and he was discharged without conviction by paying $1500 to a women’s charity. The Court of Appeal in December 2022 acknowledged the role of “customary reconciliation” and the “part of restorative justice that have been part of the Cook Islands for many years”.  

There was concern - the women were paid a “substantial sum of money” that led to their retraction of allegations against him, before he pleaded guilty. Other countries call it hush money. It’s “a sensitive area where an important Cook Islands custom must be reconciled with the integrity of a modern judicial system”. It was also said the assault was not motivated by deliberate lawlessness, anger, animosity or personal gain. And if convicted he would not be able to travel, and it would be detriment to the members of the public and to himself. Therefore, it’s okay to hit women for no reason with a machete in a public place? Then it's not considered domestic abuse? And 14 exemplary character references gets you a get out of jail free card.

He made a mistake, we all do. If he really cared, staying home and working face to face with athletes, and doing zoom calls with internationals shouldn’t disadvantage our society. This sentence, however, is detrimental to our culture. We are paving the way for others to think it is okay. If it was my blue-collar cousin, and he got 14 friends to write he’s a good bloke, would he be traveling the world or in jail? That’s the difference. We have a white-collar crime culture.

There is a system that will protect its own, it will close in around them and protect one, and protect all. If you hold position of responsibility, you must act responsibly all the time. Do the crime, do the time, not pay a fine.

Look at our top leaders, they duck under the radar, refuse breathalyzer tests, are reinstated after fraud charges. The boys’ network allows them to steal, abuse and remain in high paying jobs untouched.

You want language? How about making legal letters of the law to protect victims and not release their abusers. You want culture? Look in the mirror and see we are obese, drunk and violent.