SHE is an orphan girl, 16, maybe 17 years old. Her adoptive father brought her to this little cottage inside the grounds of the Goroka Hospital, in Papua New Guinea’s remote Eastern Highlands province.
Because a couple of weeks ago, when Queensland was thrashing New South Wales in the rugby league State of Origin, some men from her village watched it on TV, drank some beer, and decided to celebrate by dragging her into a coffee plantation and gang-raping her.
The police have charged no one. And so she has come to this little cottage, painted purple to represent women’s empowerment, but with heavy bars on the windows. Here, she received first aid, counselling, a safe haven for the night, and help to pursue a probably hopeless quest for police to bring the group of seven men who targeted this vulnerable child to justice.
It is here in this cottage, built with $350,000 in Australian aid money, that five Australian politicians are standing in a corridor, silent, listening to her story.
Naomi Yupae, a 30-year veteran of social work, tells the five male MPs that since the cottage opened three months ago, 35 victims have been through its doors, all survivors of sexual assault, rape, or family violence.
Nineteen of those 35 were children — the youngest five years old.
This Family Support Centre is the only one available for more than 500,000 people.
“A case came in yesterday, it is quite horrendous,’’ says Ms Yupae.
“Some of the people in the village went to watch the State of Origin. The boys were a bit drunk. There was an orphan girl. They took her into the coffee gardens and raped her.
“We have not yet had one case where the police charged someone. (The girl) will have trauma for the rest of her life.’’
Victorian MP Tim Watts, who in Australia campaigns to end violence against women, is one of the MPs standing silent in the corridor, as Ms Yupae details crimes of rape, of women attacked and killed after being accused of sorcery, and of a justice system so flawed a rape complainant is often too afraid to go to the police for fear of being raped again.
“Hearing (Ms Yupae) talk about other life experiences that are just utterly horrifying and alien to our mind was very powerful,’’ he says.
“No one who has young children or who has young relatives could listen to the kind of stories they are forced to deal with on a daily basis and not be deeply moved at how important the work they’re doing is.’’
PNG is Australia’s nearest neighbour, just 45 minutes by boat. It’s quicker to reach the Australian mainland from PNG than it is from Tasmania. But it is oceans away in terms of development.
Save the Children’s policy director Mat Tinkler said the level of need in PNG was “astonishing.’’
“They’re failing on every single one of their millennium goals,’’ he said.
“Children are far more likely to die before their fifth birthday here in PNG than most other places in the world.
“There’s a huge amount of violence against women and children.
“This is our closest neighbour, our wartime ally and our former colony. This is a place where we have a responsibility to help.’’