Intimate partner violence in Port Moresby: drivers and outcomes

(Femili PNG)

Intimate partner violence (IPV) affects 80% of women in Papua New Guinea, a rate that may be the highest in the world. This blog draws on a sample of 152 cases (out of over 2,000 cases in total) maintained by the Royal PNG Constabulary Family and Sexual Violence Unit (FSVU) in Port Moresby for the year 2020, to understand the factors driving incidents of IPV in that location. It also examines outcomes of the cases in terms of justice for victims.

Sexual abuse cases are largely excluded from the analysis as the FSVU does not deal with serious offences under the Criminal Code Act 1974; these cases were instead referred to the Sexual Offence Squad Unit at Boroko Police Station.

Sixty of the 152 IPV victims experienced only physical abuse, while 46 experienced only psychological abuse, and 45 experienced both. Of the 152 cases analysed, there were 141 male perpetrators and 11 female perpetrators.

It is clear that more young women suffer incidents of IPV compared to older women (Figure 1). Perpetrators were on average slightly older, with a plurality in the 30-39 age group (Figure 2).

It is also evident that females who are unemployed experience more incidents of IPV than women who are employed and self-employed (Figure 3), while a plurality of perpetrators were employed males (Figure 4).

The most frequently cited driver of these incidents of IPV (as captured in the case notes) was extra-marital affairs, which accounted for 25% of cases analysed (Figure 5). Of these 38 cases, four females and 34 males were the perpetrators. The next most common factors were the influence of alcohol and financial reasons (24 and 23 IPV cases respectively). All alcohol-driven incidents featured male perpetrators and all the female victims sustained physical injuries. In financially driven cases, employed women were physically assaulted by their partners, who were either employed, self-employed or unemployed, because they did not give money to their partners when they requested it. Perpetrators who were employed also financially neglected unemployed and self-employed women and their children.

Of the 152 cases, only 20 obtained a successful outcome in which court orders such as interim protection orders (12) or permanent orders (8) were served to the perpetrators. 50 cases were unsuccessful, meaning that the perpetrators were not punished. This was because the complainants had to withdraw their cases, due to threats from their partners and families. One of the main reasons was because the perpetrator was the sole breadwinner of the family, which meant the victims could not continue with the case. Some victims also withdrew their cases because the issue was resolved through compensation. 33 cases were referred to the family court and the welfare centre for appropriate action, and 40 case results were still pending at the end of 2020.

Separate interviews with officers in the FSVU suggest that several challenges affect the ability of the police to help IPV victims get justice. First, the FSVU space is small, and there is no privacy between the perpetrator and the victim. This can prevent complainants from telling the full story of the abuse they have faced for fear of being abused again when they return home. Also important is the court process. According to four police officers, many complainants have given up pursuing their cases because the court often adjourns cases, even if all necessary evidence and paperwork are presented, and it can take two to three months for the final decision to be made. Additionally, complainants who were unemployed often encountered financial difficulties travelling to and from court, while complainants who had family obligations were unable to continuously follow up on the court decisions. Similarly, self-employed victims or complainants saw that coming and going to the court, just to hear that their cases were adjourned, was a waste of time. These reasons contributed to complainants giving up the pursuit of their cases and the large number of unsuccessful cases in 2020.

What can be done to both reduce the prevalence of IPV and facilitate justice for victims? A short-term measure would be for the government and its partners (including international organisations, NGOs and church groups) to train community leaders on how to take ownership of addressing IPV cases, as well as helping victims get assistance through legal means in their communities. In that way, both young and old people would be educated about how to resolve relationship conflicts by peaceful means, and about the importance of seeking assistance when they are faced with IPV or gender-based violence more broadly.

In the longer term, education is needed to lead behavioural change for future generations. Teaching principles and values around gender equality, respect and non-violence, based on gender-aware teaching materials for students, teachers and other staff, will hopefully help to shift the patriarchal norm, so that men and women will be more likely to see and appreciate each other as equal partners. Importantly, parents and families should send their daughters to school, and help and encourage them to continue with their studies and get a good job. Most victims of IPV in Port Moresby and PNG are women who are uneducated and unemployed, and financially depend on their husbands. When their husbands abuse them, they cannot report the incident because the husband is the sole breadwinner of the family. The husbands, also knowing that, continue to inflict violence on women.

Ultimately, gender-based violence is preventable, but it will only be defeated when it becomes a public concern that is addressed collectively by families, communities and the country as a whole.

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This research was carried out for the author’s Bachelor of Arts degree with Honours in Political Science at the University of Papua New Guinea. This blog was undertaken with the support of the ANU-UPNG Partnership, an initiative of the PNG-Australia Partnership, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views are those of the authors only.

Minetta Daniella Kakarere

Minetta Kakarere is a tutor in the Political Science Department at the University of Papua New Guinea.


  • Hi Minetta,

    Thank you for this insightful blog piece. It is interesting to note from your research that mainly unemployed women present at the FSVU’s. This is contrary to the DHS survey results that shows high levels of self-reporting of DV by more educated women.
    There could be a number of explanations for this but should be of concern for all of us is that, generally that we have high levels of interpersonal violence in PNG regardless of socio-economic background. This is why your research is very important because it provides an insight into the demographic of people who are accessing the FSVU service and confirms that the ‘formal’ system of justice is one that not all survivors choose as a pathway to addressing their concerns.
    I agree with your conclusion that gender based violence is preventable. I have written about it here and elsewhere.
    Thank you again for sharing the findings of your study. I look forward to learning more about your research.

    • Hi Dr. Hukula
      Thank you for your comment

      Since I only managed to analyse 152 cases for my Bachelor of Arts with Honors Sub-thesis (due to the word limit of the sub-thesis) these were the results. If I did analyse all the cases (2000+), who knows the results might show an equal number of employed and unemployed women reporting their cases to the FSVUs. But from interviews with the FSVU officers in 2020, most victims were unemployed women at that time. However, they always withdraw their cases.

      Thank you for sharing the links as well.

  • Hi Kingtau, thanks for sharing these links.
    Data reveals a very sad reality for PNG. However it’s good to see that currently there is a nationwide conversation around this issue on the possible ways to address it. Similarly it’s very encouraging to see that our government is also involved in trying to address this issue. With the recent establishment of a new Permanent Committee of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment by the parliament, we should see some form of improvement in PNG in the near future.

  • This is a great baseline study highlighting one of the impediments of PNG’s development. Perhaps more in-depth studies including longitudinal research with larger sample size involving both partners and the wider community is required to further understand the potential linkages between the antecedents, mediating/moderating variables and consequences of IPV. Well done Minetta!

    • Hi Mr Esop
      Thank you for your comment.

      Yes, I do agree with you on that. Since this study was done to fulfill a requirement of the Bachelor of Arts with Honours Degree Program at UPNG, there was a word count for the sub-thesis submission. Hence I only managed to analyse 152 IPV cases maintained by the FSVUs in POM out of 2000+ cases. I am also planning on conducting future research around what you have suggested with my colleagues at the university.

      Thanks again.

  • Good analysis, Minetta!

    PNG is actually the country with the highest rate of intimate partner violence in the world; PNG ranks first, followed by Afghanistan and other fragile, war-torn African states (Link 1). Statistics show that a woman is beaten every 30 seconds in PNG (Link 2 below).



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