“Your sexual abuse is disgusting and has brought shame on our family.”

Three weeks ago I wrote an article about rape and sexual abuse in Samoa which was printed in the Samoa Observer, posted here on my blog and shared on various online sites. It was written in response to a national religious leader in Samoa and his comments on rape/abuse but it addressed  widespread views held by many.

In the article I identified myself as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. This was the first time I have spoken about this outside of my husband and children. Writing about it in such a public forum was terrifying. I cried when I wrote it and publishing it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Thousands of people read that article and within minutes of it going live, many women were writing to thank me for voicing that which is too often silenced in our communities. They wrote to share their own experiences of rape and abuse, and to engage in dialogue about ways to fight this problem. I wrote from a place of anger, pain and healing to raise awareness of a widespread issue and it’s incredibly humbling to realize that by doing so, others have been able to speak out about their own personal survivor journeys. Thank you to all those who sent messages of support and those who bravely shared their personal survivor stories. We are all empowered by your strength and resilience.

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly),  not everyone was happy with my honesty and directness, my ‘fiapoto’, le mafaufau and ‘le fa’aaloalo’.  Including a few members of my own family. My father called from Samoa to offer his support, along with my older brother, but others are angry about why didn’t you tell us before and how does this make us look?  One condemned my disclosure as “disgusting” and “bringing shame on our family.” I can only assume they are angry, hurt and confused – and rather than directing that anger at my long-ago abusers, or even simply at the horrible fact that this happened to their daughter, their sister – they have chosen to direct it at me. The last few weeks haven’t been easy but I can look at that article and say from a place of inner peace – Im not sorry I wrote it. I stand by those words. I can say:

My hurt, my healing, my voice – is more important than my family’s reputation.

For those of you who are Samoan (or any kind of Pacific Islander!) you will know how difficult that sentence can be to say. How almost impossible it can be to believe. For us; family…family unity… name…reputation… appearances…privacy… are EVERYTHING. It’s almost sacrilegious to prioritize the individual, the ‘needs of the one’, over ‘the needs of the many.’ It can be seen as the epitome of selfishness. Which, I believe, is another huge contributing factor to why rape and sexual abuse is so prevalent in our Pacific Islander communities as is the silence about it. Because when it does happen – too often, the victim is shamed and silenced so that the family will not “suffer.”

(Fijian/NZ writer Tulia Thompson wrote an excellent article reflecting on ‘Pacific Communities and Rape Culture’ and I urge you to read it for discussion on reasons why people “don’t tell”.)  Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying that rape/abuse are only a Samoan/Tongan/ Fijian/Pasifika/etc problem. It’s an everybody, everywhere problem that crosses all ethnic, cultural and socio-economic lines.

I agree with Tulia that one reason why some men rape and abuse women and children – is because they think no-one will ever find out, their victims will never tell and so they will never be held accountable for their actions. Too often, this is exactly what happens. We don’t tell anyone because we are afraid. We are ashamed. We are silenced. And, sometimes, even when we tell – we are ignored, berated, belittled and made to feel like it was our fault. The more that we DO speak out about our experiences and find validation and support from family, friends and community, then hopefully, we can work together to stop abuse from happening.

Every survivor’s story is unique and every survivor’s struggle to heal, to ‘keep it together’ and keep moving forward – is different. I’m grateful for my husband and children who have been a source of strength for me on my own journey. Motherhood has given me great insight. For example, I could not forgive myself for “allowing myself” to be assaulted at age seven – until I had a seven year old daughter and truly comprehended her innocence. If anyone hurt her, I would never blame her or hate her for not fighting back. So how could I possibly keep hating my 7yr old self for that?

In Darren and my Fab5, I have found empathy, compassion, and support. It’s my hope that we all can give the survivors we know and love – the same.

Fa’afetai lava, thank you.

There’s many useful resources available online for those who would like to learn more about this issue. I’ve provided a few links below but there are tons more.

*It can be a shock to find out someone you love is a rape/abuse survivor. For insight on what you can say and do to help your loved one – Tips for Friends and Family of Survivors

*Get the facts – Common Myths about Child Sexual Abuse

*Self-Blame and Survivors – No it was not your fault.

* A list of support networks/organizations for survivors in NZ. – Victim Support.

* The overwhelming majority of rapists are not strangers that attack you in a dark alleyway. They are partners, husbands, friends and acquaintances. Get the facts. – Overview of Partner Rape 

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67 comments

  1. I love reading your blogs Lani as Elaine Roosevelt says ~ “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look at fear in the face…You must do the thing that you think you cannot do”
    and in doing that you have empowered us women lotsa love & big hugs xox

  2. Lani, you brave and wonderful woman! You have touched so many including myself and many I know. I have always carried the label of shame from my Samoan family since I became an un-wedded pregnant 17-year-old. I was also sexually abused as a child and I don’t have the guts to voice my experience for fear I would lose the little ground I’ve gained with my Samoan side over the past 17 years (yes 17 years before they “mostly” stopped calling me cheeky and shameful!!) My grandmother still puts me down often. Will our people ever change? It’s no wonder suicide is so common! Your movement for change by standing proud amongst the stone throwers has started a new light in me. It is hope, strength, self-worth. I have been working on it all my life but there’s just something about a beautiful smart Samoan woman like you standing to lead that sparks something new in me. Fa’afetai lava.

  3. Lani, thank you for sharing your story, and your voice in moving forward to help other women. This is probably one of my favorite blog, as my eyes were as big as my head when i read the first sentence of your story. I can almost hear you tell your story with your strong ‘fiapoto’ but ‘poto’ voice. You’ve inspired so many and especially, the ones who have voices, but are not strong enough to tell their stories because of fear, like you said. YOU are their voices. Keep saving lives and inspire others. Love you Lani.

  4. Thank you for sharing your strength with us and for empowering those who’ve lived in the darkness for so long. God bless you Lani!

  5. Hi Lani,

    I read your article a few weeks ago and I applaud your courage and conviction. Its amazing brave to stand up and have to relive an experience like that for the public and I commend you for it. Im not a writer/ blogger but Im a Samoan and a mother of 2 young girls and only pray that your message is heard for the sake of your children and mine.

    God Bless.

    1. I agree here- you did the right thing- something that is often overlooked is what is right for others. I really admire this. When I was informed last year of an uncle of mine who is an offender; as dismayed as I was with the news I thought “Thank goodness I know this for when I have children”. Keep it up Lani

  6. Spot on about our community and families always trying to saving face over the individual’s suffering. And you are brave now, strong and a survivor. We are all better for it for having read your story. Thank You.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. You are a true Hero. As a Pacific man I pledge my life to standing up against sexual violence against Women, Girls and Children. I know it is up to us as men to stand up against sexual violence of any kind it is our duty as brothers, father’s, uncles and cousins. Bless You.

  8. You are so, so brave. You have given a voice, not to mention peace to more survivors of abuse than you will ever know. I love you, and I am so proud to call you a friend. Keep fighting the good fight. ❤

  9. the old ways of sweeping issues under the fala is slowly but surely dying… with wonderful authors/writers like yourself, Lani, these issues will be an addressed issue instead of taboo!

  10. Hi Lani,
    I am so proud of you. I am so glad that you have a great support of your husband and your children especially your dad and brother. You will have my full support. Don’t feel bad you are doing the right thing not just for yourself but for our next generation when grow up they will know and learn to have a voice. Thank you for your honesty and your service to our humble country. Some things needs to be addressed that has been shovel under the fala for so so long time.
    Ia e manuia faapea le aiga.

    Fale

  11. Lani,
    Your amazing!!! I read your story and it saddens me that any girl/woman go through this and I take my hat off to you for your bravery, and your strength to even write about such a bad situation you had been through so pay no mind our people need to remember when things like this happen You do not think about the shame it brings to the family or how it affects your family you think about the victim and support them in anyway you can and yet they sit there and think why has the rate of teenage suicide increased within the past years????
    because families are thinking more of their reputation rather than supporting their family member who has been through this ordeal!

  12. Faafetai and appreciation in being a firm advocate of this rampant disease. I understand all too well your pain and hurt having travelled the same journey. God bless and keep uo the great work.

  13. I disagree that telling your story puts the needs of one over the needs of many. You are helping the MANY! Many of my friends, even after knowing some of them for 8+ years have eventually confided in me that they were abused as children by a FAMILY member. Because they are scared, they haven’t been able to get the help they need. I am a pediatrician and see this all too often. Healing begins with talking about it. Thank you for this! I know it wasn’t easy but look at how many you have empowered.

  14. Lani you are empowering women and giving a voice to so many others who may not have the ability or capability in our culture to do what you are doing. You are an amazing and strong woman to share such a personal experience and using your God given talents in ways that will impact the lives of many other polynesian women. Thank you for your example and for sharing your gift of writing with us…You are our own Samoan CELEBRITY to all of us here in the USA. Much alofas…..
    Melissa Te’o Polu

  15. The only shameful and disgusting thing going on here is the perpetuation of rape culture through the thoughtless, self-serving words and actions of individuals who are, knowingly or unknowingly, shaming innocent victims into silence. These people, in my mind, are just as culpable and accountable as those who physically perpetrate sexual abuse. I have a three-year old daughter who is my universe and I would face the scorn of the whole world to protect her, as I know you would for your fanau. It doesn’t seem logical to me that this wouldn’t be the case in every family. No matter how “cultural” people think this issue is, it isn’t “cultural,” it’s just wrong. I love you for standing up for those whose despicable family members and tragic circumstances prevent that healing from ever commencing. Alolofa tele ia te ‘oe ma le ‘aiga, Lani,

  16. Do what you feel is right Lani and stay strong to what you believe. By sharing you are inspiring more dialogue and action on this issue and giving a voice to others who may not have had to the courage. In the end what we do in life, echoes for eternity. Much respect. Malo lava.

  17. Lani, your rapist wanted to demean you, and now your accusers want to demean you.There’s not much difference, really. Be strong in the face of the onslaught. I admire you immensely. Philip

  18. Lani thank you for sharing – so many families have similar stories but are still too afraid to tell – Sometimes I wonder if I had told my story 50 years ago could I have helped to protect my daughters and grand daughters better – thank you thank you thank you

  19. Lani you are one in a million. I applaud you for the young woman that you are, inspiration to many. You have opened the gateway for a lot of those women and poor children abused by so many. This is a very common attitudes in most families whose children have been abused. “The family reputation is more than the safety of their children”. whilst this thought is important most if not all victims struggle to come to terms with why this has happened to them. The Abuser lives a normal life. We are part of the SVSG global family based in Qld, I’m sorry we couldn’t book you on time for our fundraising/Sexual Awareness dinner the same time you were in Brisbane in August. We hope there will be a time in the future to meet with you. Thank you Lani, you’ve inspired us to continue the work we do”

  20. I was 7yrs old too Lani, and it happened in Lae, Papua New Guinea (the first time). Your paragraph about forgiving the 7yr old girl released something – not sure what yet but it was positive. At the grand old age of 42 I’ve just been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and a lot of things are being released and relieved. I hope more people tell their story like you have and more people find release.

  21. Lani, you’ve upset a few but empowered and inspired many. I applaud your bravery and stand behind you 100%. It’s time for change!

  22. Big thumbs up to u sis for having the courage to stand up for yourself n da others..shame on those who dont want to open dea eyes n see reality.. If it was their daughter they would have supported it..thats the only thing that will make samoa realise is to speak out.. Whats the point e o ai le lotu ae gaga mea valea.. Ga o mea e akili aivalelea ai.. Support this article fully

    1. Sa’o lelei a oe Leeanne, and the biggest misconception people have is determining who looks like a rapist and for those closest to the victim not acknowledging the truth when it turns out to be the brother, the father, the next door neighbour, the uncle, the family friend, the minister etc…point is it could anyone..

  23. I applaud your courage, your wisdom, your honesty at speaking the truth. I believe, our culture is missing one vital part of a childrens’ developments, to hear their voices! Growing up in Samoa, children were often thought of as ‘to be seeing but not heard’! Everyone who grew up in Samoa know this as the truth. We tend to worry about what others think, say and often scared of being laughed at as ‘that ‘aiga’ (family). This is the only reason why a lot of rapes go undetected and why they never get to court. It’s either swept under the ‘fala’ (mat/carpet) never to be spoken about. The rapists had it so easy, they fully understand the cultur, that it will never come to fore. The perpetrators are usually family members, trusted friends of the family or someone of authority, this makes it all the more difficult for our female victims, some as young as yourself, aged 7, to speak up. You did the right thing Lani, by speaking out and telling it as it is. I believe the time has come for these sick perpetrators to be made accountable for their evil actions. !ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

  24. Lani, I admire the Islanders who can stand up for justice and even challenge the cultural milieu that often hide things under the ‘takapau’ island mat like dust. I applaud you and am so thankful for such courage and determination. Please know as a minister of Uniting Church in Australia, I am here to support you and I would like your story to be spread all over the islander community for this need to be heard and made known for our young women to stand up and not be afraid to share their stories. Our islander women have been victims of this horror for so long yet our own people do not dare to do something about it. We are to be shamed if we hide things. Well done, keep up the awesome work of revealing the truth, Moni.

  25. Faafetai tele lava Lani. Your words hold truth, power and healing. I hope they inspire more survivors to speak their truth and break their silences on their journey through healing. You are a wonderful role model for the young women in Samoa, the Pacific and everyone, everywhere.

  26. I am so grateful for your strength and passion with speaking up and standing up for what is right, regardless our cultural issues.

    I have always admired your strength and committment at a time when you taught me back in WEGC for Mathematics, I learnt so much in the time you were there.

    Your an inspiration for most of us that never got to speak out until so many years later, Thank you for your bravery xoxoxox

  27. This is what’s wrong with our community, it is so coupled with pride that some are quick to condemn those that speak out for this sickening behaviour. The victims of abuse are victimized not just by their perpetrators but by those that condemn people who come forward. The stigma of speaking up is silencing many victims. Thank you Lani you are truly amazing.

  28. I’m 63 years old woman and your story touches my heart because I was the victim too,thank you so much. Mother Theresa once said. ” We can not do great things on this earth, but we can do little things with great LOVE”. Go for it my dear I salute you. Blessings

  29. Thank you so much for your courage and honesty. I’m from Hawaii and was sexually molested when I was 12. I spoke up against my abuser and it was terrifying, especially since he was a close family friend. The repercussions from his actions can still be seen today, as his family still has not forgiven me for speaking up. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being our voice.

  30. This was so good Lani – especially as a follow up on the original post you did addressing the Samoan Observer article. I totally agree that being silent about this means the abusers will never be held accountable for their actions. #Respect

  31. Thank you Lani for speaking out on behalf of our sisters. You’re an inspiration to our generation and people who are suffering in silence need to know it’s not their fault and seek help. God bless

  32. I haven’t read your blog before but I read this post because the author Jamie McGuire just shared it on her Facebook page. I just want to say that you are so brave for writing about this! It happens to so many people, and there are so many who just don’t understand it and can’t think beyond how “ugly” it is and want to push it away, but we all have to be willing to face it before we can make a real difference. I’m not a Pacific Islander, but I know how it feels to have this happen to you and feel like you can’t tell anyone because it would hurt your family too much. People don’t realize the stress and crushing weight of guilt that this can put your under, for the rest of your life. Thank you for sharing your experience and sharing so many resources to help let other abuse survivors know that they are not to blame, and they are not alone, and they can get help. Thank you so much.

  33. Your grace in delivering this information shows just how much integrity you have and just how brave you are. What an empowering feeling to stand up as the voice for so many who feel they can’t.
    You are an incredible source of strength and encouragement.
    *Fist pump* to you for not falling under the veil of shame for the rest of your life.
    Praises to you for not continuing a tradition within so many familIes where silence=honor.
    ONE VOICE CAN DRASTICALLY IMPACT A GENERATION.

  34. You are a strong and beautiful woman, by putting your story out there for all to see you are showing the world it is NOT ok and it SHOULD be spoken about, shame should only be on the heads of the monsters that commit these abhorrent acts. Not their victims. You should be proud of yourself and thankful for the support of your husband and children, no one else has a place to judge. It is close mindedness and shameful that they hide behind beliefs that this sort of thing should be swept under the carpet!

    CONGRATULATIONS for breaking free and standing up for what is right.

    Peace and love to you and your family xx

  35. I to am a SURVIVOR. I will not be labeled a victim because that is what they want. I am better than that and he will not win or run my life. I was a abused for years and was to scared to tell but when I did it was to late I had two kids and was pregnant. I have raised my children and they know what happened but they know that they are not to blame and I love them. I praise you for standing up and telling. Bless you.

  36. Your story is so powerful and I love that you found the strength to share it. I hope you don’t mind, I am posting a link to your blog on my Facebook author’s page because your short story is a perfect example of how a writer moves people to speak, acknowledge, and take action. Thank you.

  37. Sexual abuse in any shape or form whether the victim be man, woman or child is utterly intolerable. To think that one would have the audacity to put culture, religion and or other before the health & well being, before the love of another is just beyond any & all comprehension… but sadly some do. It would be considered a gross understatement to say that this vial practice happens more in our society than we are willing to admit which is extremely sad. But on a brighter note it takes a very brave & courageous person to step forward, break the mold & say ‘this happened to me’ so I say thank you to you Lani. I love being Samoan & like most am very proud of my heritage but am certainly not proud of this very dark side of our society. May God bless & keep those members of your family that have turned their backs & may he bestow the most wonderful blessings on those whom stand with you. I STAND WITH YOU.

  38. Oh wow, I finally understand why my mother, her sisters and cousins never peached on their uncle whenever he sexually abused them. Thank you for this insight. I’m just thinking about my little cousins over in Samoa right now and wondering how many of them have had to go through the same thing 😦

  39. Mahalo nui loa and malo ‘aupito for your courage and strength. I especially appriciate your wordage of survivor instead of victim (so much more empowering). God bless you and please continue to be a pillar for those of us who are too scared or ashamed to discuss this ever present yet hushed issue!

  40. This blog and your writing is VERY important to the plight of women living in any subservient or abused situation. This post in particular was very brave as all know how hard it is to think of justice before family reputation. All abusers need to be accountable for their actions. Thank you for your blog.

  41. Hi Lani,
    I read your post.. Very empowering.. I am a mid 50 year old female, the 4th eldest out of 6 siblings.. I have a elder & younger sister who was abused by our stepfather when we were minors. He passed away about 15 years ago..
    I have found your post very interesting and read many replies and stories of other women who have found the strength to put pen to paper about betrayal, sexual abuse, victimisation dealt to them by the hands of a family member..
    Personally i think it is a cop-out using the race card as a source of excuse.
    We must 1st accept that we are females from the human gender
    I dont subscribe to the “im Samoan or Islander” and to disclose any abuse by a family member is to bring shame.
    I am but human, of the female gender, i have dignity, feelings, i have been hurt..sexually by a person in my family whom most believed was a gd man, who helped my mother raise me & my siblings, feed and clothe us.. Sometime back it was disclosed to some of my family members what he had done to us.. Like you, some chose to believe & some didnt want to hear it.. Same Q’s.. why now, why rock the boat?? But thru my coming out.. We than found out that he had abused my 2 female siblings, who also chose to keep it in the closet for all those years..

    Our reasoning was not because of who & where we come from.
    It was to preserve the sanity the love we had for our mother.
    I loved my mother that much, i would not, could not hurt her .
    Eventually, This man left our mother and run off with another married woman.
    He died some years after of cancer.. A horrible painful death..

    If ever i had been so happy, was the day i got to tell him at his deathbed
    Repent, tell me you are sorry
    He never did, and i told him i would relish in the thought of him dieing in pain, the thought of him burning
    in hell, gave me great comfort..
    till this day our mother does not know what her 2nd husband done to us
    she is now 80 years old,
    she is a strong Samoan woman

    I am a strong woman..
    “Black, brown, yellow or white,I will let no man take me for granted, degrade of defile m again.
    I dealt with this issue when i was a very young girl,
    I put it behind me and i closed that door.
    I have no shame, but i also have no need to re-open that door and and revisit.
    I am happy with who i am today.
    thanks for your enlightening and empowering story

    ME.

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