Sexual Assault Awareness month: Awareness and action needed for prevention

US Ambassador

Carmen G. Cantor

b280fb88 9734 4bc4 b453 618194950ab4April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).  Each April is a time to take stock and for each of us to ask, “How can I raise awareness and become more of a positive change agent?” A quote from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center website puts the issue in perspective:

“Even before its official declaration, SAAM was about both awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. Looking at the history of the movement to end sexual violence, it’s clear why: It’s impossible to prevent an issue no one knows about, and it’s difficult to make people aware of a problem without providing a solution. The two work in tandem, and they always have.”

Becoming informed about sexual abuse doesn’t occur without painful reflection and acknowledgement of the sobering facts of sexual abuse worldwide, heightened this last year by the conditions of our global Covid-19 pandemic: According to the United Nations Report: The World’s Women 2020: Trends and Statistics:

“Violence against women and girls remains a global issue.  During COVID-19 lockdowns, many women and girls have been isolated in unsafe environments where they are at heightened risk of experiencing intimate partner violence. Around one third of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner; and 18% have experienced such violence in the past 12 months.”

No country escapes the searing negative consequences of Sexual Abuse. According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 4 women and 1 out of 6 men in the United States are sexually abused in their lifetime.  

The Department of State’s Micronesia 2020 Human Rights Report touches on the issue, and notes the challenges here, stating “Due in part to social stigma, family pressure, fear of further assault, or the belief that police would not involve themselves in what is often seen as a private family matter, such crimes were underreported, and authorities prosecuted few cases.”

There is much that can be done.  Armed with awareness of the issue, we can continue to advocate within our communities.   I recently gave opening remarks at the 2021 Guam Collaboration Project Roundtable for the Guam Coalition Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence.  Part One of this virtual event looked at the underpinning history and culture of violence.  Part Two highlighted regional partners and resources to counter sexual abuse.

As a member of the FSM community, the United States Embassy continues to collaborate with the National, State and Municipal governments; and various women and youth groups with supporting solutions to sexual assault and family violence in FSM.   One takeaway experts have shared is the underlying value for women to have the economic power to make their own decisions. 

In order to support these goals, the U.S. Government is providing financing to the International Office of Migration to implement a grant to improve women’s economic development across the Freely Associated States.  The U.S. Embassy and IOM in FSM have already hosted several events for this grant, which has powerful objectives:  to raise awareness of gender discrimination, teach women how to lead their own businesses, and provide grants to small, women owned businesses and organizations. Giving women the financial power, and spurring development of skill and self-esteem serves women and their communities by being able live more resilient lives, and make life decisions from a position of strength. 

Last year, the Embassy participated in the #BlackOutViolencePohnpei campaign and we walked around the entire island of Pohnpei to raise awareness about domestic violence.  This April, we are supporting Sexual Assault Awareness Month through April by wearing black and posting photos online every Thursday with various local groups.  The movement is gaining momentum, U.S. Embassies in Suva, Majuro, and Koror joined our online campaign April 15.  We used our collective message, “U.S. Embassy staff throughout the Oceania region wear black to demonstrate support for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  We stand together to raise awareness that sexual harassment, assault, and abuse can happen anywhere.  We urge governments, law enforcement, NGOs, and individuals to begin honest conversations about sexual violence, support survivors, and take action to prevent sexual violence in all its forms.” 

I invite you to join us and wear black every Thursday in April. Together we can raise awareness and work towards our ultimate goal to stop and prevent sexual assault and gender based violence.

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Bring us home!

Your Excellency, Mr. President Panuelo,

Hafa Adai from Guam.  I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirit.  I am writing to you as your constituent and a friend and I am writing on behalf of the many FSM Citizens who are stranded outside of their home states, many of them are dependent on their relatives for help for a long long time.   For my case, I have been away from the FSM and most especially been separated from my children for more than a year.  Many others including patients, students, government employees, and FSM citizens who visited their families abroad are financially, emotionally, physiologically, and physically drained and suffered for more than one good long year.  With great respect, the love of our nation and states, and to allow the necessary time for the FSM and its states to prepare and establish the necessary health and safety protocol, trainings, and build quarantine facilities, we unselfishly chose perseverance over what others might have interpreted as disturbances or rocking the boat.

                Now it is more than one year and there still seems to be no definitive timeframe insight for FSM Citizens like ourselves to return home.   Consequently, and as the FSM continued to extend AND extend some more months of its border closure, more and more of us have died and buried in others foreign lands.  Many others are being sick.  As we patiently and quietly waited some more, our loved ones also have become ill and some unfortunately have passed.  Our children, spouses, and members of our families who depended on us for our care and responsibilities have suffered some more.  The prolong overdue separation of FSM families and denial of their rights to be united is a prime case of an FSM leadership invented humanitarian crisis and human right torture.  The time to make further excuses and unjustifiable reasons to keep us out of our homeland is now dissuading.  It seems to be comforting to bring in imported products from COVID-19 infected areas and countries over your own citizens as cargo ships and cargo flights regularly come in and out of the FSM without any interruption in their schedules.  

                Yes, we know that the FSM has allowed without hesitation two huge gigantic pieces of foreign metals (Ms. Voyager and Ms. Chief Mailo) with FSM crew to return to the FSM from Covid-19 infected countries.  The Japanese metal “Voyager” and its crews of at least twenty FSM citizens went through the quarantine protocol and now all crew members are united with their families and the boat is regularly sailing and providing transportation services between our islands.  The Chinese metal “Chief Mailo” that went to the Philippines to be refurbished brought an awakening PANIC into the entire FSM.  But over time, the case was said to be historical and the FSM citizens and others on the boat and the boat itself went through similar but little longer quarantine protocol and now are happily with their families.  

                On the contrary, hundreds and thousands of stranded FSM citizens abroad have completed their vaccine shots, being tested several times and the result continued to be the same-negative.  As we wait and went through the daily emotional torture of physical separation from our homeland, uncertainties and anxieties continue to take its toll on us due to the unclear articulation of when FSM stranded citizens can be allowed to be repatriated.  What else and what more do you want to subject us to the emotional agony in other’s foreign lands?  And while we continue to be indecisive and without any repatriation plan basically to due fear and coronaphobia, our neighboring countries of the Republic of Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands can repatriate their citizens and unite families but not the FSM?  In the case of the Marshalls, they have successfully dealt with the positive case in their country, have contained the spread of the virus and now RMI is COVID-19 free.  The FSM?

                I am convinced that the basis that convincingly led your conviction and intuition to make the decision that it was safe to bring home the Voyager and Chief Mailo from Covid-infected Japan and Philippines should be no different from any decision for repatriation of stranded FSM citizens.  If anything, there should be much greater comfort to bringing home stranded citizens because it involves lesser risk.  These citizens like myself and others who are holed up in Guam have for over a year now been quarantined and isolated.  Additionally, we have already been fully vaccinated and tested negative and continued to be self quarantined.  Once we arrive back in FSM, we will also be subject to the same sets of Covid-19 protocols accorded to the crew of the two boats.  I remember that the Voyager returned to FSM during the heist of the pandemic and no vaccine was available then.  However, it seems to be too easy to turn a blind eye to certain situations like bringing home the boats with higher Covid-19 risks and try to make the incidents part of history to silently erode with time from our thoughts.

                On behalf of the thousands of FSM stranded citizens, I am appealing to your heart to believe in yourself and in the efforts and preparations that you have made.  Separate yourself from the babies who are skinned in adults coverings, Rise up, Step forward and Take your leadership challenge as the leader of ALL FSM citizens and bring us home. 

With sincere gratitude and well wishes, I remain.


Faustino Yarofaisug

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