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Picking up the phone in PNG

Published on 9th October 2015


VSA volunteer Lauren Hart has worked to help set up Papua New Guinea’s first free, national hotline for victims of family and sexual violence.

Lauren Hart, VSA volunteer in Papua New Guinea

Lauren Hart, with some of her phone hotline team in PNG

 

Papua New Guinea has some of the worst rates of sexual and domestic violence in the world, with around two-thirds of all women experiencing violence at some point in their lives.

 

Now, for the first time, there’s a nationwide free phone line to help, based in Port Moresby. And if there was any doubt about the need, VSA volunteer Lauren Hart says they received nearly 100 calls in the first week alone when the line was launched in August and 250 calls in the first month of operation.

 

Lauren shared her thoughts on the program during an interview with the VSA Communications team:

 

“There have been so many different calls relating to a huge range of issues, although the main issues have been recent family violence incidents, sexual abuse, child welfare issues and child sexual abuse."

 

Lauren, a VSA volunteer with ChildFund PNG, coordinated a 12-week intensive course for the centre’s phone counsellors (mostly new social work graduates from the University of Papua New Guinea), which included familiarisation with services available to callers, such as safe houses, family support centres and emergency services. An experienced counsellor, Lauren previously worked at a women’s crisis counselling service in Tasmania.

 

In a later interview with The Guardian newspaper, Lauren described as completely unexpected the number of men using the hotline. Some men rang to express anger and frustration at their partners for failing to behave in a way that was acceptable to them. Some rang because of sexual and violence-related trauma in their pasts, identifying themselves as survivors of abuse. Many had never spoken to anyone of their childhood abuse before contacting the hotline.

 

"That was definitely surprising,” she said. “We expected women to call, but it’s not something that men openly discuss here, violence perpetrated against them. The callers felt safe knowing that the service was free and confidential"

 

The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain employs five telephone counsellors, two counsellors and two
senior counsellors, with an operation coordinator. All of the counsellors are Papua New Guinean and fluent in PNG’s three official languages of Pidgin, English and Motu.

 

Lauren says “The programme is based around both Western and Melanesian counselling styles, as a purely Western model would not necessarily fit the context of Papua New Guinea.”

 

Callers to the service are given conflict resolution strategies by Lauren and her team and discouraged from using violence as a way to resolve arguments.

 

Despite Papua New Guinea’s huge size and the remoteness of so many of its communities, 75% of the country so far has cellphone coverage, which makes a phone-in service ideal. The counsellors are able to work with callers to make plans to keep them safe in the moment, as well as referring them to ongoing support.

 

While the need for the service is great, Lauren says the helpline also represents, in the form of its young women counsellors, the opportunity for young people in the Pacific, when they have the privilege of good health and education, to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of the community. “It is a huge achievement for the service users and providers.”

 

The 1-TOK Kaunselin Helpim Lain is a partnership between ChildFund Papua New Guinea, CIMC(FSVAC) and FHI 360, supported by the New Zealand Aid programme, USAID, ChildFund New Zealand and ChildFund Australia

 

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