When a Man Beats a Woman

The idolization of rugby players should never come at the cost of the women in their lives. We place these athletes on a pedestal and our adulation props up a sporting culture which seems inextricably linked with alcohol and violence. Our rugby players have helped ‘put Samoa on the map’ and there are those who have made immense contributions to our country – both on and off the field. There are many who are admirable role models for our youth and I have great respect for the work they do. But what about when a rugby ‘legend’ who now coaches and mentors the next generation of young men in the sport – is a wife-beater? Has abused and terrorized his wife over the years, throughout multiple historic world cup campaigns? And continues to attack her even after they have been divorced for going on two years? Domestic violence is a huge problem in our culture. If we as a country and as a people, want to sincerely address that problem, then we need to look at the ways we all contribute to it. With our silence, our apathy, or our rationalizing of abuse. Can we be as vocal, condemning abusive behavior from a rugby star when he punches a woman in the face – as we are cheering for him when he leads our team to victory? Samoans worldwide give our rugby players and national teams immense support. I wonder, will we be as generous and supportive to the woman who has survived years of living with fear and now is braving public scandal and censure to speak out about her abuse?

I have great admiration for my classmate and dear friend, Lemalu Sina Retzlaff, who has shared her story and spoken out publicly about domestic violence.  In doing so, she has given a voice and a face to domestic violence for Samoan women and the message is: ‘This is unacceptable, I won’t keep silent, and if I can speak out then so can you.’ Because of her ex-husband’s high international profile, she knew there would be widespread ramifications of her coming forward – and not all of those would be supportive or positive. Her courage, dignity and quiet strength is evident and will help to empower many other women who presently live in similar relationships. I’m grateful for her example and her friendship.

There are those protesting that, ‘there’s two sides to every story’ – which is an incredibly shameful and ignorant response, and highlights some of the mindset in our Samoan people that breeds violence against women. Hitting your partner (or, in this case, your EX-partner) is NEVER okay, regardless of what she does, how she dresses, where she goes or what she says. My thoughts are also with Sina and Brian’s children and how this impacts on them. Brian is an old school classmate and we share close family connections. I condemn his abusive choices but I have compassion for him, I know he loves his family very much. He MUST be held accountable for his actions by the legal/justice system, but I also hope he seeks and finds the help he needs to manage his anger and change his behavior as a father to his sons and a co-parent with his ex.  The fact is that just as there are very few support systems in place in Samoa to assist women living with abuse, there are also none to specifically help men learn how to communicate without violence. Too many of our young men are taught (by example) that a woman’s place is to be subservient and a hit/smack/punch is the easiest way to discipline a child…AND to solve every problem with your partner. As Sina talks about in the interview, it starts with small things – controlling behavior, intimidation, threats and bullying – and its vital to recognize those warning signs in the early stages of a relationship. Then, ideally, a couple can seek counselling and get help. But for that to happen, we need to get rid of the shame involved with getting help and we must stop justifying abusive behavior – in ourselves, our partners, our siblings, children or cousins…

Lemalu Sina Retzlaff, Interview with the Samoa Observer.

Lemalu Sina Retzlaff, Interview with the Samoa Observer.

Read Sina’s story at this link – http://www.samoaobserver.ws/home/headlines/8523-enough-is-enough

 

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9 comments

  1. Thank you — I am so pleased to hear that now this is being spoken about . I was married to a Samoan / Tokelauan and endured a marriage that seemed to be deemed acceptable by everyone else but was definitely NOT . I struggled through so much and in the end left Samoa with my baby (6 months old ) and arrived back in the Uk with a baby and a rucksack traumatised —-but the thing about abuse is that you sometimes don’t know its happening until you are removed from it —-I love Samoa and only recently went back with my son, 10 years since I had left –there were many comments about this but I had to be ready in myself —-since leaving I have written 3 books ,run an award winning restaurant and brought up my son without any financial assistance from his father –even though he is on NZ wages and quite well off .
    When I was suffering from abuse there seemed to be no-where to go –even as a palangi — the head of UNDP at the time did nothing to help me ,on the country —put my life in danger due to a loose tongue –I have no respect for any UN agencies since then .
    It was so good to come back to samoa earlier this year and yes things have changed but more importantly I see great hope having come across this blog —sisters you rock XX

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Lani, although for me, the link didn’t work. Spousal abuse destroys the human heart. It takes love, twists it, and the shattered remnants impact the self images of all involved. I witnessed this abuse in my own family – my father beat my mother, and sexually abused my sister… Fortunately, she left him, and the example she set for me was to never let any man abuse you. But she had family support to make her escape; she had somewhere to go. Where does a woman go, to whom dies she turn to, if she has no family support, or TRUE friends to lean on? Only if there are social service nets that really work does she have a chance. And her children learn what they live. Sadly, this sickness – for it IS a sickness- is all over the world, affect all races, classes, and cultures. It’s always the inner coward exerting his physical strength against someone he feels is weaker, safer, to abuse without repercussion. This is what gets my goat. Because a woman’s brothers and me folk SHOULD step in when there’s abuse going on and kick some a$$, so men will know they can’t get away with it. Only cowards beat women! But when the society at large turns a blind eye, it gives it’s tacit approval, and the beat(ing) goes on. Women MUST unite throughout generation with their sane menfolk and stand against this hidden crime! It’s the only way to stamp it out! My prayer for the women in Samoa and Pacifica culture come together… If unified, it can be halted. Much love and respect to Ms Lemalu and you, Lani, for daring to stand up and speak out!

  3. I surely hope Samoa REALLY opens their eyes to what Violence is!. #GirlPower to Sina for speaking OUT speaking LOUD speaking FOR ALL WOMEN. Everyone is accountable for THEIR actions – so too is Brian Lima accountable to BEATING TO NEARLY DEATH a women, a mother, a sister, an aunty, his EX wife, a child of God.

  4. Enjoyed this blog post I am so saddened that a individual with such status resorts to violence to try and control his Ex-wife. But you are so correct Lani in saying that there aren’t enough supports for abused woman and men who have anger and violence issues. We need to help the victims and assist these men to be able to communicate their frustrations without lashing out physically. I feel sad knowing domestic violence is still a huge issue and as a parent of three sons we have always enforced that hitting girls is a NO NO!!! And I am blessed that my husband shares this with our boys but also models what he says. Our community needs to assist as much as we can and churches can play a huge part in this. Preaching Christ like values and ways to deal with anger and encouraging people to speak out. This just cannot continue and yes Enough is Enough well done Sina I commend you for your courage to come forward and share your story. Thank you Lani for being courageous to share this in your blog 🙂

  5. Great post. I like how you have a wonderful mix of topics on here that either uplift me, or make me laugh. This one, despite its gruesome topic, is uplifting to women and men. I personally can’t see how things get to this point in a relationship; though I know they get there somehow, and the few people who I’ve met, my grandma included, who have been in a relationship like this, they’re all strong women, despite what the media would lead us to believe.

    When my fiance met with my dad to ask for my hand, the conversation ended with a threat. My fiance isn’t very violent at all, he usually prefers to walk away in the middle of an argument instead of letting himself get too upset (totally annoying for me sometimes), but just in case the idea got into his mind one day, Dad let him know that if he hit me even once, well….I won’t put it in writing, but let’s just say he won’t be doing anything like that. Mom ensured him that if she heard about anything like that, she’d come in the house and burn his toes in his sleep…..yea I guess my fam is the violent sort…(at least, they pretend to be)

    I’m lucky to have a family that’s so open about issues like this, but I just wish more families had the same outlook, minus the threats of course. I think its important to have that support system to let you know that no matter what happens, you are not alone.

    1. Good for you AND your family for never forgetting their God-given responsibility to watch out for their children…even when they grow up and marry. How many cases if spousal abuse go on and on because the wife’s family knows damn well what’s going on, but don’t want to interfere, or feel “she married him and made her bed, now she must lie in it!”

      If more family acted righteously in letting men know they would not allow abuse, it would stop. Period. Cowards be utilize women… And what they need is a good ole fashioned down home a$$-whipping by a REAL MAN to get their heads on straight… No matter HOW macho they appear on the outside!

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