Constables Murphy Lunabek and Johnson Ngatonga are officers on a mission. The two Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) policemen are part of a team travelling to remote villages to raise awareness of how families can tackle domestic violence.

In communities where domestic violence can sometimes be viewed as a women’s issue, Murphy and Johnson are determined to help change perspectives and promote a more positive approach to family harmony. Over the course of this year, in their roles with VPF’s Family Protection Unit (FPU), they have travelled to remote areas in Nguna, Pele and Epi to share knowledge and engage communities.

Constable Lunabek said the people in remote areas want to know more about the law and they are happy to welcome the VPF. “They are interested in the topic and the law,” he said.

“When we go to the village, we see the chief. He rings the bell, and everyone comes to the Nakamal. We talk about the Family Protection Act and the five types of domestic violence: sexual violence, financial violence, emotional violence, physical violence, and stalking.”

For the FPU team, it is important they approach their work as a conversation and listen to everyone’s views. “The community themselves changes their perspective,” said Lunabek. “It is through a conversation and is collaborative. We give them the question, we discuss, and they give their feedback. They find their own answers.”

A priority area for the team is helping people understand that domestic violence is an issue for everyone, not just for women.

Ngatonga said having male FPU officers involved can help. “We work with communities to help change their mindsets,” he said.

“They sometimes see it as a lady’s law. But as a male officer we stand up and tell them that this is a family law. It is for a family to live happily in harmony in a home. Our culture can be male dominated, especially in rural areas, so we stand up to speak to our communities.”

Both officers have a huge commitment to their roles and are determined to increase their efforts. “I like the job and am ready to face more challenges ahead,” said Ngatonga. “I like to educate my fellow brothers and sisters. Let them know that there is a law for them to follow. I tell them, you see me today as your friend raising awareness, but if you are involved in criminal activity, next time you will see me as a law enforcer.”

For Lunabek, his passion for tackling domestic violence came out as early as the first few weeks of police training, “I am so proud of myself working for the FPU. Because when I was in the training, and they’d ask me what I wanted to do in future, I’d say, ‘I want to be an investigator at the FPU’. I am so proud of myself. My father founded our family with harmony, so when I came here, I felt at home. I deal with many cases and it’s good to help someone in need. Keeping people and our country safe is all that matters to me,” he says.

Travelling mostly on Australia provided banana boats, alongside officers from other VPF units, the community visits also feature talks on the constitution and cyber-crime.

Ngatonga and Lunabek have been working with support from Australian Government Policing Advisors to explore ways to engage more communities and the FPU is determined to continue to reach those in most need. “The awareness must reach every remote place in Vanuatu and not just concentrate in some places,” said Lunabek. “Because people need information. They need to know what the laws are, because once you talk about what’s right and wrong, behaviours and how people act change.”

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