A culture of violence

The revelation this week that former Manu Samoa and international rugby star Brian Lima had physically abused his ex-wife Lemalu Sina Retzlaff during and after their marriage was alarming but not unforeseen. Sure, no one can foretell the future, but everyone knows the present so let’s face our truth Samoa – domestic violence is a sullied, ignored and condoned part of both our past and present.

They are saying, “There are always two sides to a story,” and yes that is factual. But it’s also true that no one, especially a man, has the right to use violence, particularly against his wife, to force his will upon her or to suppress her own rights. No matter what the disagreement is, the solution is never violence.

Sadly, this is not the exception but the norm in Samoa. Everyone is a witness to some form of domestic violence in Samoa. We are a passionate people, but passion does not excuse us from culpability. Whether we are the antagonist or a witness, we play a significant role in our response to domestic violence.

I was raised to never strike a woman. This was a hard and fast rule in our home with very serious consequences. But as I child I would watch in horror as family members beat their wives in private which in Samoa is pretty much the same as a public flogging because there is rarely such a thing as privacy in communal living. I wondered after the first such witnessed beating, ‘Do grown-up’s get beaten like kids too when they do something bad?’ The sad reality is that bullies will beat whomever they please and bullies don’t need an excuse to exact punishment on their victim.

And that is what all it boils down to. Domestic violence is about control. It is about an irrational man’s primal need to show his dominance and exert absolute power. It is about intimidation. It starts out as manipulation that eventually leads to psychological emotional abuse and in our culture it often culminates in violence.

Some people call it spousal abuse. I prefer the term ‘Unrighteous Dominion’ because it is. As a spiritual, God-fearing people shouldn’t we be asking ourselves the same question we often ask our kids – “What would Jesus do?”

Regarding this most sacred union, President Howard W. Hunter says, “Keep yourselves above any domineering or unworthy behavior in the tender, intimate relationship between husband and wife…Tenderness and respect—never selfishness—must be the guiding principles in the intimate relationship between husband and wife.”

I am hardly the purveyor of good tidings of great joy in my relationship with my own wife every day, all day because we certainly have our trials. But never once have I entertained the thought of striking my wife. The pots and pans and random inanimate objects around the neighborhood on the other hand have occasionally seen a darker side of me.

It saddens, sickens and infuriates me all at the same time. It saddens me that we resort to violence in our relationships with each other; relationships that are sacred and meant to be built on trust. It sickens me that in a day and age when there are so many resources and so many avenues for remediation through services, churches, etc. that we still resort to violence. It infuriates me to hear of any type of abuse. But it incenses me even more when we are content to be witnesses and bystanders rather than protectors and defenders for those who are need of emancipation from bullies and oppressors.

No one could portend that Brian Lima was capable of this type of violence. Yet we revered his cold and calculated demeanor on the rugby pitch and applauded his handiwork when he brought down his opposition with ferocious and impassioned, bone-jarring hits.

No one outside of the walls of Lima’s own home or within the privacy of his marriage and family relations knew the awful truth. Until of course the truth was prominently displayed for the world to witness his proficiency at domestic violence – on Sina’s face.

Sina’s valor on this particular field of play, the one that has proven to be the most difficult and the most serious for Lima is to be commended because it has no doubt been very difficult for a very long time for her as well. There will be more like Brian Lima in the coming days, months and years. Men who whose unrestrained rage causes emotional damage and physical scars for someone whom they should always regard with tenderness and affection no matter what may cause discord.

May we do our best to decrease the number of Sina’s amongst us – women who are subjected to evil in all its various forms. May we also do our best to decrease the number of Brian’s by recognizing the signs of abuse, reporting the abuse and providing both parties with the help that is required.

There are no innocent among us until domestic violence is curtailed; ideally, until it is eradicated.

Stop the violence!

Domestic Violence Assessment:

  • Does he treat you as if you belong to yourself OR does he act possessive of you?
  • Does he seem positive about the attention you get from others OR does he seem jealous of it?
  • Does he insist that you do nothing affectionate or sexual towards him unless you truly feel like it OR does he try to pressure you into doing more than you want?
  • Does he encourage you to spend time with friends and family OR does he does he try to separate you from others who are important to you?
  • Does he take full responsibility for his behavior OR does he tell you he cannot help himself because he loves you so much?
  • Does he encourage you to be independent OR does he try to get you to be dependent on him?
  • Does he do his full share of the work in the house and with money OR does he expect you to pay for him or to do most of the work?

In his other relationships:

  • How does he act towards others?
  • What does he do when he is mad at someone or upset about something?
  • Does he take responsibility for his share when things go wrong with another person, or is his story that everything is the other person’s fault?
  • Does he try to make women feel sorry for him because of all the hard luck he has had with other people?