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Life as a social worker during "emergency epidemic" of violence

Robyn Baker social worker in Papua New Guinea

Robyn Borausiki, 25, is a social worker at Modilon Hospital in Medang where she works alongside VSO volunteer Catherine Bedford, a psychiatric nurse.

The rates of violence against women in Papua New Guinea are amongst the highest in the world for a country not at war. Despite the regularity of severe attacks, particularly within the family, services to support survivors are few and far between. Robyn Borausiki, 25, is a social worker at Modilon Hospital in Medang where she works alongside VSO volunteer Catherine Bedford, a psychiatric nurse.

Robyn is offering survivors a range of psychosocial care, treatment and practical support in their Family Support Centre, giving women who previously suffered in silence a chance to change their circumstances. She explains how she became a champion for women's wellbeing.

My mother was a single parent. I lost my dad when I was 12 and after that life became very hard. We were raised by my mother’s brothers. We faced a lot of financial difficulties. My family found it hard to put food on the table.

"Growing up in Papua New Guinea (PNG), I saw a lot of violence, particularly physical violence between men; bruises, blood and everything. My mum went through a lot of domestic violence with my dad herself. He would beat her up and we would go live with our grandparents and then he would come and apologise and we would come home. I felt sorry for my mum, because she wasn’t well. These experiences inspired me."

I'm now the new social worker- actually this is my first placement. Mostly, I do case management, referrals, and liaise with community development groups and the police on women and child violence.  

Robyn, social worker

I'm now the new social worker- actually this is my first placement. Mostly, I do case management, referrals, and liaise with community development groups and the police on women and child violence.  

Shame and dependency

Violence in PNG affects lots of people especially women and children. I would say it’s an emergency epidemic. Most women are ashamed to voice their concerns because they are dependent on their perpetrators, usually the husband. Some don’t speak because of their children; if they leave what would happen to them? I think that was the case for my mother.

I believe violence against women is high because of our culture. Men are seen as head of the family, that they can do whatever they want. Women just do ‘women’s jobs’ like cooking, taking care of children, doing the laundry and so on. Boys get sent to school instead of girls. As a woman, you must just look, listen and accept. Men feel like they have a higher status than women. There’s an imbalance.  

Catherine (Bedford, VSO volunteer) has been teaching me. I’ve been learning a lot about counselling and how to deal with traumatised patients. I see her like a big sister; someone who I could talk to myself. She knows all my past experiences. She’s a good role model. I’ve been learning how to organise meetings like the Family Sexual Violence Action Committee. I learn by watching her talk to clients, seeing how she approaches them. Working with her has boosted my confidence. 

Robyn Baker social worker in Papua New Guinea with volunteer nurse Ginny Lattul

Social worker Robin Borausiki with her colleague Catherine Bedford at Modilon Hospital in Madang

Strengthening services to survivors - including children

Most of the women come to us having experienced physical violence, emotional abuse, rape, sexual assault and so on. We offer five essential services. One is psychological first aid, where we identify the survivor and tell them about the service, and get their consent to continue treatment. We then see if they need medical attention and bring them to the doctor. We do counselling after that, after having done STI and HIV testing, pregnancy testing, giving emergency contraceptives and we also do some follow-ups.

We are a friendly, caring and non-judgemental service. We have to think of the survivor- we are on their side. We must believe what they say. We must be careful, as often they might come to see us along with their perpetrator. 

We attended to a case of a child who was raped, she was three years old. I was so upset. The perpetrator had told her that they were going to see their mum and she had trusted him. I just imagined that it was my little sisters who had been through that.

Change is possible

There was no such service before Catherine came. Thanks to Catherine, there have been a lot of changes. I see she has a big heart for us Papua New Guineans. Women are coming in to see us. The staff are happy to work with us now we’ve talked to them about gender-based violence issues. We are all in this together. It is better that people like Catherine show us the skills rather than just do it. We still don’t have a big centre with everything provided for us yet. The government don’t yet fully support this service, but they believe that it is essential."

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