October 11, 2011 - Pns

PORT MORESBY- Domestic violence is a tragic reality for two-thirds of women in Papua New Guinea, but the issue is largely left unquestioned and rarely discussed in public.

That changed this week, after the shocking case of a woman who was repeatedly abused by her policeman husband sparked uproar.

The case of Joy Wartovo prompted Papua New Guineans to turn to social media, a recent phenomenon in PNG, to express their outrage and demand police action.

The mother of two went public late last year with a harrowing tale of years of abuse at the hands of her policeman husband Simon Bernard.

A photo in the Post-Courier newspaper at the time showed her nursing broken fingers caused by hammer blows and burns from an iron.

Soon afterwards Bernard was dismissed from the police force and charged with assault.

The story faded until this week, when Ms Wartovo was hospitalised with multiple stab wounds allegedly inflicted by her husband.

It turned out that Bernard had not been prosecuted for the earlier assault and was even being protected by former colleagues in the police.

Effrey Dademo from the advocacy group Act Now! says the case has prompted women to turn to social media to speak out.

Ms Dademo is an administrator of a Facebook group that was set up this week called Papua New Guineans against Domestic Violence.

In just a few days it has attracted nearly 5000 supporters that is nearly 10 per cent of all Facebook users in PNG.

"Most of those people on the page are women who have been victims at one point in time," Dademo said.

"Because the page was set up and inspired by the situation that Joy has gone through, I think that kind of gave it a personal touch and people kind of related to the issue.

"I think it's just mere frustration. It's come to a point where really nothing has been done about violence against women and children in general and right now people are outraged by the situation with Joy."

Many men have also joined the Facebook group.

One even urged others to shave their hair and beards as a sign of opposition to domestic violence.

Metropolitan Superintendant Joseph Tondop says the public outcry has put pressure on police to find Bernard. But the pressure does not seem to have translated into vigorous action.

"We have invited him to come to the police station but he has refused and chooses to be on the run so as we speak he's still on the run," Superintendant Tondop said.

"We actually picked him up two or three weeks ago. Police were interviewing him, he just walked out and then disappeared."

At the very least Ms Dademo hopes the discussion sparked by Ms Wartovo's plight will help change attitudes towards domestic violence.

"When you see a husband beating up a partner the usual response they give is that 'oh, she's my wife, I married her and a paid bride price so I can treat her the way I want'," she said.

"And we're really hoping that men, especially in PNG, will rise up and take this campaign forward and try to change the mentality of other men."