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The Family Safety Act was passed in 2013. The focus of this legislation is to help keep families safe and in particular, to improve the handling of domestic violence and related matters. A key part of this Act was the introduction of the Protection Order.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence (DV) is all about power and control. It is a pattern of abusive behaviours in a relationship that’s used by one person to control another person. These behaviours can include using coercion, fear, intimidation, emotional/verbal abuse, social isolation to name a few. There’s often the use of, or the threat of – physical or sexual violence.
It’s key to remember though that DV is not JUST physical violence. Your partner doesn’t have to punch or beat you to try and control you. He/she can also use economic abuse, eg prevent you from getting a job, make you ask him for money, take your wages, threaten to withhold money for feeding your children. He/she can use intimidation, eg make you afraid by smashing property, displaying weapons like a sapelu/a gun, slash the tires of your car, punch walls.
Technology is another way that your partner can try to control and threaten you. If he sends you texts 20…30 times a day wanting to know where you are and who you are with. If he monitors your Facebook activity and stalks you on other social media. If he threatens to post intimate photos of you or personal information about you online. All these are examples of controlling behaviours and tactics used by perpetrators of domestic violence.
This abuse can happen to anyone regardless of your age, race, income, gender, sexual orientation, or your level of education. In Samoa, according to a 2009 UN report, almost 50% of all women are being victimized. There are many women in the rural areas who are living in controlling abusive relationships. There are many women in the Apia urban area who are living with domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a crime. If it’s happening to you, a Protection Order is one way you can get help.
What is a Protection Order?
If you’re experiencing domestic violence , you can apply to the Court for a protection order. If there’s enough evidence that yes, you are being subjected to domestic violence, then the Court will issue an order forbidding your abuser from coming anywhere near you, or doing anything else which could endanger you. This is an “interim” or temporary order. It is taken to your abuser by police officers and they must make sure he/she reads and understands the conditions. If your abuser breaks any of the conditions ie, comes to your workplace, or slashes your tires, or sends you threatening messages via text or Facebook – they have breached the Protection Order. This is an offence and the police will step in.
Someone else can apply for a Protection Order on your behalf IF:
- you are in a coma
- you are a child
- you have a mental or intellectual disability
How do you get one?
- Get the 2 page application form from:
- Ministry of Justice office, Sogi
- Samoa Victim Support Group office. Free call their helpline: 8007874
They can help you fill in the form which includes an affidavit where you list your reasons why you need protection.
- Submit your form to the Ministry of Justice.
- Your application then goes to a Judge for their assessment and signature. It is given the highest priority and Judges will sign off on Protection Orders at all times of the day (and even at night).
- Once it has been signed by a Judge, the Order then goes to the police. They must serve the order to the abuser right away and it goes into effect immediately.
- The Protection Order is designed to keep you separated from your abuser and keep you (and any children included in the Order) safe, RIGHT AWAY. It is a way to defuse the situation.
Within 10 days, your Order gets called in the Family Court and the Judge will evaluate your situation. If you no longer feel in danger, or if you want to cancel the temporary Protection Order, you can ask to have it removed. Otherwise, it will stand. The Family Court is a closed court. This means the Judge will tell everyone to go outside before calling you and your abuser to come forward. Your families and friends won’t know about it unless you want them to.
How long does it take to get a Protection Order?
You can get a Protection Order on the same day that you file your application.
How much does it cost?
It’s free. Staff at Samoa Victim Support Group or at the Ministry of Justice will help you fill in the forms.
Do I need a lawyer?
How long does a Protection Order last?
Your Protection Order will stand until you ask to have it removed. Other women have gotten a Protection Order for the 10 days only. Others have had it in place for months.
How many times can you get a Protection Order against your abuser?
There is no limit. You can apply for a Protection Order for as many times as you feel unsafe, as many times as you need it. Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren said, of her time in the Family Court, “I will grant a Protection Order 50 times and I will treat each one as if it’s the first. Why should there be a limit to how many times a woman can ask for help? There’s no limit to how many times he beats her, so there shouldn’t be a limit to how many times she can get a Protection Order.”
Some notes to keep in mind:
- It can be helpful to first file a police report about the violence you are experiencing, particularly if you’re in an emergency situation where your life is at immediate risk. The safest option then is to get police help quickly. Your report can then be attached with your application.
BUT a police report is not required and you can still get a Protection Order without first going to the police.
- Remember that you are also bound by the Protection Order. That means, you shouldn’t be telephoning, messaging or going to see your abuser while the Order is in effect.
- The Family Safety Act puts specific duties on Police Officers when it comes to you reporting domestic violence. They are supposed to help you (arrangements for shelter, see that you get medical treatment or counselling.) They must inform you of your rights, including your right to apply for a Protection Order and give you the information you need to get one. They used to help victims do Protection Orders but now, they will refer you to SVSG.
- A Protection Order is not a failsafe guarantee. There have been cases where abusers have violated the conditions of a Protection Order. While police will endeavour to keep you safe, they can’t be everywhere all the time. It’s helpful if you can involve your extended family and your village in ensuring your safety. Often we want to keep DV as silent and secret as possible. But if we can let our faifeau, village council, our matai, our aiga know that a Protection Order is in place, then hopefully, they can all participate in making sure your spouse does not break the Order conditions. Eg, if they see him coming to your house, or somewhere in your village, they can call the police.
“Family violence is a community issue. We all have a part to play in eliminating violence in all its forms.” Justice Tuala-Warren.
Thank you to those who shared their knowledge and experience for the writing of this How-To article. Special thanks to Justice Tuala-Warren, Shalon Time of the Domestic Violence Unit at Samoa Police, and Leota Theresa Potoi formerly of the Samoa Law Reform Commission.
This article was first published on Samoa Planet in November 2016.
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