Saturday 25 March 2023 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion
Twenty-seven, it’s nearly two rugby teams, or a classroom of children in anyone of our schools. It’s also the number of letters of reference that came in support of the perpetrator, now in jail, for what the Judge said, was abuse that stole a young woman’s life, when in fact it tore it from her soul and trampled it on the ground.
Twenty-seven people put pen to paper and their names for a court to plead for the perpetrator, to show that he had support from some in his community and those around him. Seventy-seven people who spoke up when asked to protect this man and ask for justice for him and his family and his circumstances, and for the victim, this poor young girl, how many letters did the Judge see pleading for her innocence stolen? Not a single letter, no not even one?
I met the perpetrator in 2018, and who could have guessed the dark secret he was hiding then, as he came with such high credentials from his community, a Rangatira, and community leader. And as I shook his hand, I reflect now that it was a hand that poor young girl knew all too well, a hand that savagely abused her for years, with no one pleading on her behalf, not even one from her mother whose God given responsibility was to protect her. In fact her only plea was for her daughter to remain silent, like she had done, knowing what this man was doing to her daughter.
A silence that allowed this man to predicate on this young woman in broad daylight, with others knowing something was not right, but like the mother, turning their face away, because the shame of everyone knowing what was happening was a far greater burden to bear then the utter shame this poor girl was left to feel on her own. Ten years of abuse and no one knew?
The collective shame, communities turn their eyes and hearts away from, comes back to haunt them when finally, the victim, and with the support of the few, gathers the courage to say I am here, I am seen, the shame is not mine to carry, and justice must be served.
My question to us all is, do our young women, and sometimes men need to show courage as they do, when confronting sexual assault and rape in our communities, or is it us that need the courage?
How many of us talk about the courage these often-young women show to stand up and face their abuser, when in fact it is us that needs the courage because collectively, we have failed her, collectively we could have defended her and collectively we sentenced her to years of abuse by our decision to be silent and not show courage and speak up for her.
Sadly, instead, and too often, we wait for the victim to find the courage because we know if they don’t, it will remain in the shadows where we all know it lives, but for so many different reasons will not courageously confront it for the pure evil that it is! A pure evil that passes down from one generation to the next with an akapapa of victims and perpetrators surviving on shame and silence and preying on those we are sworn to protect.
In my years counselling in Aotearoa, and the Cook Islands, this story sadly is one all too common and it is confronting, it is complex and it is often historical; with perpetrators of this evil from every facet and corner of our society; those in the public domain, those in positions of responsibilities, those in the shadows, and sometimes even those defending the perpetrator.
And as we build towards celebrating 200 years of the Gospel or good news arriving in the Cook Islands (Rarotonga), somewhere in that celebration I hope and pray for courage to be a part of that celebration. That when we look back, we don’t gloss over the past and not take into account also where we can do better as a society, community and families and fulfil the words of Proverbs 31;8-9 by speaking up for those who cannot speak for the defenseless.
E amama I to vaa I te tuatua a te tanga kare e tika kia tuatua ra, so the Good News is good news for all and not just for some, because that’s what it actually
means to be a Cook Islander.
Te Tuhi Kelly on 26/03/2023
I like many others are tired of these people who turn a blind eye. No one thinks about the victim, it is always about forgiving the perpetrator. No way, he get's what he deserves and so will all those who engage in these heinous acts against the vulnerable and the innocent. E tano, I have no sympathy for him or others whatsoever, you made a choice and, you have been caught, now suffer the consequences. You should fall on your sword and give up your chiefly status, you have brought shame on those who have gone before.