Port Moresby and the Raskols
Updated: Jul 29
Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the largest city in the South Pacific and an important trading centre. Although the city has showed great economic and demographic growth over the last decade, it figures amongst the cities with highest violence, crime and rape rates around the world. For instance, the city shows that 41% of male locals have admitted raping a woman at least once in their lifetime while two thirds of the female population have been victims of any type of Gender Based Violence (GBV). A couple years ago, an average week in Port Moresby would host 3 murders, 4 rapes and 28 car-jackings.
To understand why crime and rape rates are so high it is useful to have a closer look at the dynamics taking place in Port Moresby. The main causes include high unemployment levels, lack of a welfare system provided by the government and of course, normalized gender based violence (GBV). These issues collide and give birth to organised local gangs or ‘raskols’.
The Raskols: criminals or survivors?
The term raskol comes from the English word ‘rascals’ and in PNG’s official language, Tok Pisin, means criminal. These local gangs are generally located in the outskirts of Port Moresby, hotspots of violence where living conditions are precarious. Men involved in raskol activity can generally range from carjacking and robbery to gang rapes and domestic violence. It is very important to point out that these groups, mainly target women. Members of the 13 Casino Gang stated in 2018 that gang rapes and ‘belting’ or physically abusing their wives with their fists, iron objects and knives was a normal and fundamental part of being a member. Similarly, when they perform carjackings the main target is also women. In their words: “ Women are easy prey, no need for us to struggle”.
Although members of the gang have admitted belting their wives, pointing guns at them and stabbing them with knives, they claim they are not ashamed, they are not bad people and that “they are survivors, not criminals”. They tend to assume that domestic violence and rape is part of being a man and it is culturally accepted. Plus, raskols come from a poverty and/or unemployment background where they are pushed by their families from a young age to get money. Eventually, lack of opportunities, low wages and unemployment causes the idea of illegal easy money to be extremely attractive.
It might be quite hard to understand these contradictions when ultimately violence is violence and it has a profound physical and emotional trauma on the victim.Yet, to find a solution for GBV it is necessary to understand how the mind and the tactics of the attacker, in this case the raskols, work. Never leaving aside the fact that by no means it is acceptable to justify epidemic gender violence as a cultural aspect, part of male gender roles or a natural response of living in poverty.
Lack of institutional support to victims in Port Moresby
As we have looked into the raskol mindset, it is more pressing to give their own voice to the victims and focus international and domestic efforts on providing them with networks of support. Currently, PNG only has 6 refugees or safe houses for victims of domestic violence, five in Port Moresby and one in Lae. These safe houses serve as a temporary refuge for victims of GBV while connecting them to a case worker that offers legal assistance. Despite the massive support safe houses offer, it is still not enough.
The problem is that safe houses only offer temporary solutions due to lack of government funding and police support. Cases like Marissa are a heartbreaking example. Marissa was 69 years old in 2018, when the case was reported. She was being assaulted and physically abused by her son-in-law. The attacker was not only trying to rape Marissa, but also raping and belting her daughter and undergae grandaughters. Since safe houses are not nursing homes for the elder and do not receive financial support from the PNG government, Marissa had to go back to live with her abusive and violent son in law.
Another case that represents institutional flaws is Jenella’s case. She has been a victim of domestic violence for 20 years and turned to the police 17 times to file an arrest order for her husband. Jenella’s husband has broken her arms several times and his second wife has also stabbed her with a knife. Sadly, none of her attempts to seek justice has worked since the police simply refused to intervene arguing it was a “domestic problem” and solved the problem just by warning her husband by simply telling him to “not do it again”.
Current solutions and future challenges
In conclusion while raskols are promoting a culture of violence and rape in Port Moresby the only available networks of support- police and safe houses- are falling short to help the victims. These conditions leave victims pretty hopeless and frustrated, with few opportunities to change their reality. Nevertheless, small steps such as the 2013 Family Protection Act have finally institutionalised a legal framework that protects victims of GBV. This guarantees three major points:
Although the Family Protection Act has shown concern from the government on the outrageous levels of GBV, the hardest part is yet to come: eliminating gender violence from the cultural narratives of Papua New Guineans. It is no easy task since it is a ‘normal’ part of male gender roles, as raskol members have stated. Briefly, belting and raping is part of what means being a man.
For the moment the Morobe Development Foundation has worked in partnership with the Canadian government to empower women and help them reach financial independence. This programme works by giving them village chicken to sell their eggs and meat to ultimately start their own business. It not only empowers financially women but brings hope and health to their families. However, there is still a great risk of violent husbands or partners to block female empowerment and continue perpetrating rape and domestic violence in Port Moresby and PNG.The question institutions and the PNG government should be asking themselves is: How is it possible to change the mentality of violence in all Papua New Guineans?