Director Nikolao I. Pula Jr. of the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs called on the nation's island territories to collaborate in addressing the serious issue of violence against women, a crime that “will no longer be tolerated” in today's society with the effective implementation of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
“It is significant that the U.S. territories work together to combat such a global issue by sharing successes, challenges, ideas, and strategies across the U.S. territories. We will not only find innovative new ways to address an old problem but also create new paths for others to follow,” said Pula.
Pula was among the several key individuals who delivered welcoming and opening remarks for yesterday's opening of the U.S. Territory Summit on Violence Against Women presented by the CNMI Criminal Justice Planning Agency and the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, in partnership with the National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault and the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women.
The summit's theme is “Supporting Partnerships to Address Violence Against Women.”
The U.S. Territory Summit-the first of its kind-convened at Saipan World Resort's Royal Taga Ballroom over 120 individuals composed of key island officials, local providers, and other stakeholders from the CNMI, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
Pula, in his remarks, said the enactment of VAWA changed the landscape for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, putting an end to the “deafening silence” that once veiled this issue.
He said the success of VAWA is evident in the progress it has made following its implementation, setting in motion changes in national and state laws and programs and revolutionizing communities in terms of reporting these crimes and responding to victims.
Pula noted, though, that limited resources hamper efforts to provide a wider range of services to island communities, thus the need for partnerships with judicial executives, law enforcement, victim advocates, healthcare providers, faith leaders, and other stakeholders to provide victims with the protection and services they need.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial reiterated the U.S. territories' commitment to put an end to violence against women, which “unfortunately exists but is not part of the island culture.”
Fitial said the islands' geographic disconnect from the U.S. mainland prompts these communities to innovate and create new strategies and approaches, emphasizing that the islanders' “resiliency” motivates them to come up with “sensible solutions” to pressing issues such as that of violence.
The summit will be highlighted by a series of presentations and sessions discussing specific experiences and case programs involving various island territories as well as strategic approaches. Yesterday's opening event featured a pre-summit session titled, “The Neurobiology of Trauma: Practical Advocacy and Counseling Applications” by Rev. Santa CanteWi Molina-Marshall, director of DC Rape Crisis Center's Counseling and Advocacy.
By the end of the weeklong summit, participants are expected to craft a comprehensive blueprint that will address the issue on violence against women on each island territory based on all the information acquired from the event.