Pohnpei Legislature passes Domestic Issues relating to Domestic Violence Act

violence act

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
November 17, 2017
Pohnpei—Nine years after it was first introduced, the Pohnpei State Legislature unanimously passed what became known as the Domestic Issues Act. It provides for mechanisms and procedures to deal with incidents of Domestic Violence.
In October of 2014, a Family Health and Safety report on the prevalence of violence against women funded by Australian Aid and UNFPA was released. It showed that in the FSM, nearly 1/3 of women had suffered physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner at least once in their life time. 24 percent of women had suffered that type of abuse within the 12 months immediately preceding the study.
The report did not cover the prevalence of domestic violence against males. While anecdotally those numbers are not as high as the numbers of women who are victims, but it definitely does happen in Pohnpei.

violence act 02Australian Aid, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and Pohnpei and FSM governments had planned a conference on what was known before the bill passed in its final form as the Pohnpei Family Safety Bill. The conference was set to precede the annual 16 days of Activism on Violence Against Women and Children. They had intended to spend a good portion of the time working on ways to move the bill forward to passage but were delighted when a week and a half before the conference began, the Pohnpei State Legislature unanimously passed the bill.
At press time, Governor Peterson had not yet signed the Act into law. He is waiting for feedback from his cabinet members but it seems to be nearly a foregone conclusion that he will do so.
Even with the passage of the bill, there is a lot of support work that still needs to be done and even as good as it is that the bill passed in the Legislature it could yet be a stronger bill. Participants in the conference had a lot to talk about and plans to make on ways that they could help with the implementation of the bill. On the first day they heard and participated in discussions on Family Values, the FSM Family Health and Safety Study, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and a discussion on the Human Rights context of family violence. On the second day six advocates and legal practitioners had a panel discussion on the current practices on dealing with domestic violence cases. The Chairman of the Judicial and Government Operations committee helped participants to understand the bill. The Attorney General also spoke on the bill. They discussed the importance of designing an implementation plan for the Domestic Issues Act on Domestic Violence and closed with a discussion of what still needs to be done in order to fully implement the act should it become law.
“The Government of Pohnpei State recognizes that families are the foundation of the structures of our communities, and that they form the core of our existence as people,” the final committee report on the bill said. “Acceptance of family values and recognition of the obligations of family members to honor and respect each other lay at the heart of the Constitution and in the very soul of our traditions.”
The report said that it heard testimonies from Pohnpei students attending the University of Guam in Social Work. They met with Micronesian Productions who was tasked at the time with an awareness campaign on similar issues and also on Human Trafficking. They also heard from witnesses from the Pohnpei Women Council. The committee commended the honest sharing of personal experiences from the witnesses and their passionate support for the bill.
“Your Committee is cognizant of the fact that this is timely as we continue to encounter a growing number of family violence incidents,” the report says.
Before sending the bill back to the floor with its recommendation to pass it, the committee submitted proposed changes. It said that it felt that the definition of the section on child discipline could lead to an inaccurate and incorrect application of the law. It said that it changed that definition to be more in line with the Constitution and Pohnpeian traditions.
The Committee also added a “three-strike” requiring mandatory imprisonment and possible fines after a third conviction for domestic violence within seven years. “It is the sense of your Committee that incorporating a three-strike rule into the legislation will serve as a deterrent in family violence situations… further promoting the intent…to maintain peace and promote harmony and unity within the family,” the report says.
The committee said that it had a problem with the implementation of protective orders within the Justice Department and so asked the Governor to establish a task force no later than 30 days after the Act takes effect. The task force would study the concept of utilizing protective orders with family violence issues and submit a recommendation to the Governor and the Legislature within six months. The Committee recommended that the sections on protective order be “reserved” and not put into effect of law until after the study has been conducted and necessary changes are made. However, what the committee passed on to the full Legislature as legislative draft 1, only kept in “reserve” the section on protective orders from other States. All of the rest of the significant wording on protective orders remained in the bill and were never removed or changed in subsequent legislative drafts before the Legislature passed the Act. If the Governor signs the bill, those provisions will have the full force of the law without task force review.
The act deals with powers of police officers responding to domestic violence incidents. It covers diversion methods, probation, and revocation of diversion methods.
The markup copy of the final version of the bill including all amendments spans 30 pages.
Supporters of the bill are ecstatic that there may finally be a law to help protect victims of domestic violence that could potentially serve as a deterrent to those people who have had a tendency to abuse their family members.