In Fiji, almost half (47%) of the women who experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime have never told anyone about the violence (Somebody’s Life, Everybody’s Business; 2011 survey done by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre).

There is a strong culture of silence in the South Pacific, or taboo, regarding speaking out about sex and abuse. The Fijian culture expects people to do what they are told, without explanation. Children and youth are taught that it is disrespectful to voice their opinions or share their thoughts.

The culture of silence keeps forced sex hidden and the cycles of abuse continuous. At Homes of Hope, we have a driving passion to create a culture of freedom for single young girls, young women and their children.

Over the past 22 years, Homes of Hope has had over 1,000 young women, girls and children stay on our campus. We have witnessed first-hand the significant, devastating, long-term effects that forced sex can have on an individual. Each victim turned survivor has a story, has a family, has a home, village, community. Homes of Hope’s residential campus works to bring restoration to the individual, but the trauma often reoccurs when that restored individual returns home.

The freedom a young girl gets through the various Homes of Hope programmes needs to be sustainable in her life, especially when she leaves our residential campus. The only way for this to happen is to have a paradigm shift within her family, her friends, her neighbours, her village; if not, the shunning, belittling, abusing and stigmatizing will never stop, and the cycles will continue. Through aggressive prevention and reintegration programmes, Homes of Hope is endeavouring to secure long-lasting freedom for each girl. Currently, we are working alongside 34 “hot spot” communities with three main activities.

First, we train gate keepers (identified and appointed leaders in a village or community) to know and understand the issues surrounding forced sex, the signs and indicators of a victim, and the push and pull factors that contribute towards abusive incidents. These individuals are trained to have a basic understanding of international and national language, laws and policies surrounding forced sex as well as appropriate reporting procedures. To help with this process, Homes of Hope is working on four toolkits that have four different target populations within one village: early childhood and primary teachers, parents and families, village leaders and gate keepers, and men. Each toolkit contains a flipchart, PowerPoint, handouts and activities.

The Homes of Hope Toolkits are just the beginning of bringing awareness about forced sex to a community. It takes a community-wide effort to create a lasting difference.

So, secondly, we continue our work and relationship alongside the gate keepers and village leaders to create a safety net. Activities are designed where the gate keepers identify stakeholders and individuals within their village who would be the appropriate place to refer specific cases, i.e. a rape case should be referred to the nasi ni koro (village nurse) as well as the community police; incest cases should be reported to the turaga ni koro (village headman) so that he can then report to the department of social welfare. Gatekeepers write specific case study mock situations onto a piece of paper then “toss” them one-by-one into a “net” to be responded to by appropriate actions.

Lastly, we ensure that every village and informal settlement (squatter settlement) has a referral mechanism built into their community action plan so that there is never a question of who to refer a case to, what the contact number is, or the appropriate referral procedure.

One thousand girls, tens of thousands of individuals in communities and schools – all hearing the message of “Silent No More!” Homes of Hope is determined to change the current culture of silence into a culture of assertiveness and freedom. Will you join us in our battle?

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