Stopping violence against women in PNG: A moral and ethical dilemma

The rapidity of the recurrence is breathtaking – the extreme nature of the violence difficult to comprehend. Perhaps now is not the time for political correctness and western sensibilities, writes PNG Echo

A scant couple of weeks after pictures were published on social media of a woman who was disemboweled after purportedly being gang raped by males invited to do so by the victim’s husband (before he murdered her), came pictures of Julie, also chopped to death by an intimate partner. Her severed hand lay next to her half naked body; there were deep cuts on her body inflicted by a bush knife. Her head bore the scars of having the same weapon embedded into it. It has been reported that she was pregnant.

Both were young PNGean women and it was PNG men, of their intimate acquaintance, that had savagely and arbitrarily murdered both.

The legal paradigm eagerly adopted and hidden behind by the corrupt of PNG ‘innocent, until proven guilty,’ was not for these women.

The women’s ‘crimes’ (for which they’d suffered the worst of humiliations and the most frightening deaths) had been connected to unfulfilled expectations as chattels of their men.

And the cry went up

It happens everywhere, –

and it does (although the level of violence would be exceptional even in war zones.) In PNG, this level of violence against women it is not at all exceptional, nor is it rare.

Western-style law seems to be no sort of deterrent to these crimes that are often tacitly approved of – their punitive nature bringing back a semblance of control to men (often angry young men).

Angry Young Men

The national response to these atrocities amongst the better educated PNG male (with access to internet and social media) is of shock, horror and disapproval (although many also go to great lengths to see the problem from the murderers point of view – victim blaming is rife). In fact, the response of those who have self-labelled themselves “elites” (sic) is sometimes surprisingly close to the underlying attitude of the transgressors.

Just last week, for example, I had a written conversation on social media with a young, well-educated PNG male with the facebook name of David Putulan (which may or may not be his real name.) He had written a facebook post that invited the ridicule of those with vision impairment.  And there were those only too ready to accept the invitation.

At the same time, Putulan published and spoke of his horror at the pictures of the recently murdered ‘Julie’ on social media and called for them to be removed. It wasn’t so much the act that revolted him, but having to look at the pictures offended his sensibilities.

I wrote on his thread that I thought his post on vision impaired was repugnant and that, under the circumstances, I found his stance on the graphic pictures of the murdered Julie, inconsistent and hypocritical.

There was neither shame nor remorse in his response. Instead, he aggressively instructed:

Never call me an Ignorant (sic) stupid hypocritical PNGean again because I am not. If I become the PM of PNG, I will make you and your country wet your pants.

An empty threat? Sure.  But nevertheless a ham-fisted attempt at intimidation. Putulan did not have the maturity to deal with being chastised by a woman, however poorly he had behaved. And Putulan wasn’t finished: with his fragile male ego dented, it got worse.  With a full deck of cards (ie his higher education) he chose to play the ‘race’ card followed by his ‘ace’ – sexual violence.

And if I meet yu (sic) in png yu (sic) will know who I am. You better wear metal pants.

What had started out as a rebuke over insensitivity to those with a disability had ended with Putulan (having at last understood the emptiness of his threats and his impotence to carry them out) choosing to turn to ridicule involving the mooted sexual competency of the writer – a total non sequitur but an indication of the mindset.

The question is: how representative is Putulan of the rest of the ‘elites’?

If this is the response of the educated, what hope for the women of PNG against men who have not got the benefit of Putulan’s education. I am left wondering if higher education is at all useful in the fight against violence against women in PNG?

For although Putulan offered (sarcastically) to teach me statistical theory, his education had not insulated him from knee-jerk reactions embedded in his psyche by a culture that is dynamically shifting to become more and more sadistically violent towards women nor from the mores of a society whose elite stratum is as compliant and as guilty as the lower strata in their attitudes toward women.

Does the solution lie with the ‘Greatest Happiness’ principle?

Recently a PNG man was stripped naked and pushed around a little by other PNG males before he escaped and high-tailed it down the road (still naked) chased by one of his assailants to the whooping and laughter of the others.

This was filmed and published on many social media sites. It was accompanied by this explanation:

“May this serve as a warning to all the young perverts who text and call women, trying to start up conversations and enticing them to commit adultery. You must respect women. If she is married or engaged or has a boy friend, just back off. If the law doesn’t deal with you, her relatives will dish out jungle justice to you.

Soon after, I had a private inbox message from a young PNG male – his indignation was palpable. His text used the written equivalent of shouting (capitalisation) and of table thumping (over punctuation) he had this to say (reproduced as written, except for the censoring of the more obscene language):


I found the outrage of the writer exaggerated.  When compared to the egregious atrocities that happen to women, the incident was trifling and relatively harmless.

It’s true that in a modern western context we have gone past using public humiliation as a redress for wrongs, but this has not always been the case. In previous times, for instance, transgressors were locked in a vice called the ‘stocks’ in the town square where people were invited to pelt them with rotten fruit and vegetables. Women transgressors had their heads shaved and were often paraded with their skirts lifted and their genitals exposed for their sins.

So, is there then a seed of an idea in this incident about what could effectively deter PNG males from committing crimes against women?

In my writings, I am often accused of being culturally unaware when it comes to PNG traditional practises and sensibilities – with this in mind, as a ‘home grown’ remedy, have I the right (and the rest of western society) to condemn this attempt to regulate aberrant male behaviour – even if the motivation is really the protection of the married man’s chattel?

In fact, does the motive really matter – is it not all about results?

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham was an advocate of the principle of ‘The Greatest Happiness,’ that states that what is morally and ethically right is that which creates the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people – if (non violent) humiliation of a few aberrant offenders would save the lives of many women, is it a remedy worth considering?

I guess the uncertainty lies with the word ‘if’. We cannot know the consequences of actions, we can only guess.

However, it is worth contemplating whether primitive behaviour will only respond to a primitive solution? I wish the answer to that was ‘no’ – but recent incidents have created doubt.

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One thought on “Stopping violence against women in PNG: A moral and ethical dilemma

  1. Am afraid that once things or events are accepted as they are without bringing perpetrators to account before a forum or court, violence in all forms could be accepted as norm, especially when state institutions to protect citizens and visitors fail in their duties

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