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