AbstractsWomens Studies

Domestic Violence and Society’s Response in the Cook Islands: The Psychological Impacts on Victims in “Paradise”

by Erica Lee Anderson

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: domestic violence; Cook Islands; psychology; qualitative; psychosocial; psychological impact; Pacific; violence against women; IPV; intimate terrorism
Record ID: 1305670
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5551


Research conducted in small isolated island states in the South Pacific has been very limited in scope and frequency. This was particularly true in the Cook Islands, an archipelago of 15 tiny islands scattered across an area of the Pacific that was equivalent in size to Western Europe. This was the first research on domestic violence that was conducted throughout the whole of the Cook Islands. Moreover, as a qualitative study, this research added to the slim canon of qualitative domestic violence reports. Qualitative interviews were conducted on every inhabited island in the country. The participants were Cook Islands women who were, or who had been, victims of domestic violence. The research aimed to discover whether there was domestic violence throughout the Cook Islands and to hear from the victims about their experiences of domestic violence, society’s responses to the abuse, the psychological impacts of both, and what suggestions the women had for change. The research also had an overarching goal of ensuring that the victims’ voices were paramount, in order that they could be heard through the medium of this report. Pacific Island, Western, and feminist research methodologies were adopted in this phenomenological ethnography and the data were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The results show that the Cook Islands has domestic violence across the country. The psychological impacts on the participants of the domestic violence and of society’s response frequently result in the women being doubly victimised. Despite the fact that the women come from several different generations and are on isolated islands, the results show that there are remarkable similarities in their stories. These similarities include the methods and types of abuse they experienced, the indifference and unhelpfulness of their communities, and the victims’ resultant psychosocial problems. However, an unexpected result reveals that a few of the victims who went to the police were helped by the justice system threatening the abusers with imprisonment. It does not seem to matter whether this threat is delivered by a police officer or a Justice of the Peace, as long as it is sincerely and seriously made and the perpetrator believes the threat is real. Once those conditions are met, and although the expressive violence as well as the emotional and psychological abuse seems largely to continue, the direct physical violence stops. The small number of participants means that this result may not be generalisable but it suggests that the existing laws could be used to far greater effect by sentencing perpetrators to prison, or meaningfully threatening imprisonment. In the Cook Islands, it appears that this would not only better protect domestic violence victims but also reduce the likelihood of their further physical and psychological damage. A significant result shows that when the similarities in the women’s stories are synthesised, this leads to the theory of the timeline of abuse, which is presented here for…