Supreme Court Calls for Urgent Support of Child Victims, Rapist Sentenced to 11½ Years

    "This is the second case of sexual offending which I have sentenced in a week involving victims of the same age, 12 years and 13 years, falling pregnant and having babies"

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    2119

    5 November 2021 Mulinuu Apia Samoa.  The Supreme Court of Samoa has called for urgent action to provide special support for child victims of rape who have not only been through the trauma of being raped, but fallen pregnant as a result, and report they have suicidal thoughts.

    Justice Tologatā Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren made the comments while handing down an 11½ year prison sentence for 56 year old Fepuleai Maualuga Mika, who four years ago at age 52, raped a 13 year old girl inside a church building. (Justice Tuala-Warren ordered name suppression for the victim but not the perpetrator).

    “This is the second case of sexual offending which I have sentenced in a week involving victims of the same age, 12 years and 13 years, falling pregnant and having babies,” said the Judge during sentencing on Thursday afternoon.

    As in last week’s sentence, Justice Tuala-Warren again highlighted Samoa’s obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 39) to offer special help to restore the health, self-respect and dignity of child victims.

    “This obligation should be given prominence, given that in this case, and no doubt perhaps many others, the child victim has suicidal thoughts,” stresses Justice Tologatā Tafaoimalo.

    Justice Tologata Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren.

    “Some special help is needed for these girls to be able to cope, and lead happy lives after having such appalling experiences”.

    A National Epidemic

    Sexual assault, incest and rape towards women and young girls has reached national crisis levels, with cases coming before the Supreme Court of Samoa every week, without exception.

    The Office of the Ombudsman also Samoa’s National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) found in their National Public Inquiry Report of 2018, that an alarming 10% of girls reported having been raped by a family member in their lifetime.

    The report goes on to confirm the psychological impacts, stating that 33% of rape victims will contemplate suicide, while 13% will actually attempt to take their own lives.

    The NHRI Report reads:

    “This leads to the startling conclusion that between 7% and 10% of women in Samoa may have considered suicide through rape within the family alone. There are currently approximately 92,000 women and girls alive in Samoa today.

    If the prevalence of family violence uncovered by the Inquiry holds true:
     18,400 will be raped by a family member;
     8,832 will be raped by their husband or partner;
     6,348 will consider suicide;
     2,300 will attempt suicide.

    “These are not just numbers, they are sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, neighbours, and friends”, states the NHRI Report.

    In this latest case before Justice Tuala-Warren, closure by way of sentencing the accused is being handed down four years after the rape took place.

    The victim is now 17 and the offender 56. The long drawn out process is the reason why many victims take refuge with the Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG) to await the process between filing a report to police, and final court hearings and sentences.

    Police Summary of Facts

    The police summary of facts accepted by Fepuleai confirms he had raped the young girl inside a church building.

    On or between 1 July 2016 and 31 July 2016 both attended a church seminar held at church. The victim arrived first and was reading a book when the accused arrived. He grabbed her from behind, blocked her mouth with his hand and carried her to the other side of the baptismal font. The victim resisted by trying to scream and fight back but the accused was too strong. He quickly removed his clothes. He threatened to kill her if she did not do what he wanted..

    “The victim experienced pain during the forceful sex which caused her to fall unconscious. The accused left her there and when she came to, she was bleeding.. She cleaned herself up and did not tell anyone what happened..

    “After that and between the same time period, the victim and a female acquaintance were at church for a church seminar. When her acquaintance went to the female toilet, the victim waited outside. The accused dragged her inside the men’s toilet and again raped her..

    “In October 2016, it was discovered the victim was pregnant”.

    Victim Blaming

    In interviews with Probation, Fepuleai denies having sex with the victim against her will.  He was adamant to Probation that the 13 year old victim led him on and requested to have sex with him, and he was a willing participant.

    Justice Tuala-Warren recognises the all too common victim-blaming mindset and states in her ruling Fepuleai seeking to blame the victim is unacceptable.

    The judge highlights the age difference of 39 years between the accused and the victim and the trust he breached.

    “He is an adult, married with children with immense life experience as opposed to this young girl..

    “He is in a position of trust in relation to the victim which he abused. Because of this position, he would have known her age which makes her vulnerable”.

    Message for Church Leaders

    On both occasions in this case, the victim was raped while attending a church activity within the church compound.

    Justice Tuala-Warren calls on church leaders in Samoa to be aware of members looking for opportunities to take advantage of young girls while at church events.

    “This offending occurred at church, a sanctuary for many people, where they feel safe and protected, and yet, sadly, the sexual violation of a young girl took place there..

    “Sexual offending is so rampant in our country that church leaders should also be alert and aware that even during church activities, there are still those preying on young girls,” warns Justice Tuala-Warren. 

    The Sentence

    Justice Tologata Tafaoimalo set out the four rape bands often referred to in her sentences and set 20 years imprisonment as the starting point of the sentence.

    “I deduct 1 ½  years for his penalty to the village and the ifoga. For his previous good character as attested to by those who provided character testimonials I deduct 2 ½  years. I deduct 1 year for his remorse, and I deduct 3 ½  years for his belated guilty plea.

    The judge said Fepuleai pleading guilty saved the victim from having to appear in Court, “and relive the extremely traumatic time of her life”.


    Sina Retzlaff