This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post.
CONTENT WARNING: This column includes disturbing details that may be distressing to some.
In the early hours of Wednesday 7th September, a woman was sleeping in her long-term rental bungalow at a resort on Devil’s Point Road.
The woman woke up to find a bush knife at her throat and a Ni-Vanuatu man on top of her. Terrified, she asked him what he wanted and offered him money, which he declined.
The man attempted to rape her at knife point but only succeeded in slicing her hand which she held protecting her throat.
The victim successfully negotiated with the man after he was unable to complete the act and managed to ask him to leave and not kill her. The man, who appeared to be intoxicated, expressed remorse, and left.
When the victim went to go get help, she was scared that he was hiding in the bushes and going to hurt her again. The woman suffered superficial cuts to her face, bruises across her chest and a deep cut across her right hand. ‘My nightmare is what if I didn’t have my hand to my throat? He would have killed me,’ she said.
‘I don’t know why I stayed calm. You never know how you will respond until it happens to you.
I think it would have been different if I had walked out and seen him in the living room. I probably would have screamed in shock.’
She alerted the caretakers of the resort, who immediately rang ProMedical paramedic services as well as the police.
A policewoman answered and informed them that she couldn’t attend to the scene, as she was the only one on duty. She then asked them to come to the police station at 8am when there would be more police officers available.
Paramedics administered morphine before transporting the victim to a private doctor for further medical treatment. Later that day, she flew out to Australia to be with her immediate family and to receive further medical treatment.
It is suspected that the attacker cut through the newly installed wired fence. The bungalow had been secured with security screens after a previous break-in several months ago except for two windows near the entrance however the victim was led to believe that the whole house was entirely secured with Crimsafe.
He entered the bungalow by removing the bottom louvers in one of the windows in a well-lit area.
When he left the premises, he left her credit cards in the bedroom and threw her keys on the sunbed outside the front door. A kitchen knife was discovered on the side table outside her bedroom.
‘We have reason to believe that he has been targeting the area,’ the caretakers of the resort said. ‘This guy had no respect.
He knew she had a husband as he asked for his whereabouts. We assume that he knew the routine of our security’s guard patrol.
He entered the house in brightly lit area surrounded by bungalows that was occupied by guests when our security was patrolling the other side of the property.
‘The respect is gone. There is no respect for the chiefs, there is no respect for the people living in this area. They should be sent back to the islands. Someone out there knows something and more needs to be done.’
The incident had been reported at 2am but police only turned up at 11am. The caretakers of the resort were told they had to write their statements prior to the investigation even taking place.
As no police vehicles were available, the police officers were transported to the crime scene in the personal vehicle of the caretakers. Fingerprint samples and photos were taken before a report was made and subsequently lost.
A copy was later handed to the Australia Federal Police to deliver to the Vanuatu Police Force on September 14th.
‘We suppressed the story initially to protect the victim and we did not want to lose any more guests,’ said the one of the caretakers. ‘In no way did we mean to make her feel responsible.
‘She was a very safety conscious person. We all knew that. If I could take the pain away from her, I would. I wish that he had just taken the money and not hurt her.’
This is not an isolated incident. Since it occurred just over two weeks ago, there have been several break-ins at residential properties along Devil’s Point Road. Furthermore, police sources have confirmed that a staff member attempted to rape a co-worker at a resort in Seaside not long after the Devil’s Point Road incident.
A reasonable level of duty of care is expected when staying at a resort, whether you work there or not. Why would anyone have any reason to believe they would be unsafe particularly when there are security lights, security screens and a security guard patrolling the property?
We are conditioned to believe that a person’s home too should be a safe and loving place. The sad reality is that almost one in three Ni-Vanuatu women will experience sexual abuse before the age of 15 with the most vulnerable victims being adopted children who know their abuser.
Several questions arise. Firstly, when are we going to start encouraging men to stop raping instead of telling women how not to get raped? It is not solely the woman’s responsibility to safeguard herself from acts of violence.
Secondly, why are civilians carrying out police duties when a crime does occur? It is not the responsibility of civilians to carry out investigations or transport police officers.
The police state there is no budgetary allocation to put more police officers on duty outside of normal working hours and there is often no fuel to perform front line duties.
Yet in July this year, Infrastructure and Public Utilities Minister Jotham Napat said politicians were hiring rental cars unnecessarily, using government cars outside of work time, and spending money on fuel excessively. An audit revealed that if government officials stopped abusing their privileges, more than $US 5 million could be saved.
Perhaps with the money saved, fuel could be put in Vanuatu’s police trucks and water in our fire trucks?
Thirdly custom reconciliation plays a significant role in the sentencing of perpetrators of crime.
If a guilty plea is entered, a third of the sentence is reduced and if a custom reconciliation is performed, that is also taken into consideration.
But how can custom law and the power of chiefs be used to prevent crime before it occurs?
Chiefs are needed more than ever to educate boys and men about eradicating violence against women and condoning when it occurs.
We all need to recognise that violence against women doesn’t just affect women – it destabilises the entire community. The woman who was attacked at Devil’s Point Road said that incident has not only traumatised her, but also her family, friends and co-workers.
‘I think the most difficult thing is nurturing my family through this. They have been badly affected by what has happened and did not want me to return to Vanuatu. I have always been safety conscious and I’m now even more so,’ she said.
‘But I don’t want to be a victim. I could go back and return to a good job, but I have been working so hard my whole life to get this dream job that I have here in Vanuatu.
It is not easy for me to make this decision to come back, especially knowing how my family are hurting, but I cannot let this make me a victim because I am not.’
No arrests have been made. The suspect is described as approximately 35-40 years old, slim build, bald with no facial hair.
By Yasmine Bjornum