Samoa
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“COERCION, THREATS AND SILENCE”

[SAMOA NEWS UPDATE— Mr. Senetenari Malele’s preliminary hearing was held on Thursday afternoon, May 4, 2023. Prior to it beginning, all people, including media were escorted outside of the court by Security, with no explanation other than no one was allowed in the court room during Malele’s PX.]

Dear Editor,  

Pava’i’a’i Elementary School is now on the radar. The well covered investigation and charges are on SN 4/19/23 Inappropriate touching case refiled. A teacher is accused by 4 female 7th graders of sexually molesting them while in class.

What these young Pava’i’a’i Elementary School children endured, under the trusting care of their teacher is vile enough. The confusion and the fear these children were facing did not stop there. It appears attempts were made to corrupt the children’s statements before the Police arrived on the scene.

According to one of the victims, who was called to the office, she and her friends were subjected to strange lines of questioning by 3 of their female school counselors. She was made to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. But most of all the child felt so bad because they did not believe her.

The counselors had her repeat every word Mr. Senetenari Malele said to her. Then they had her demonstrate every move or touch the teacher did to her. All the while the counselors were laughing and mocking at everything she said and demonstrated.

The counselors then tried to reassure her by saying ‘paua le faiaoga’ (it’s the teacher’s normal behavior). ‘O ga e kaalo’, (he’s just playing). When the police or anyone ask you about what happened, say ‘leai se mea ga kupu’, (nothing happened’.)

The counselors also told them the good reputation of the school falls on them to remain silent.

Later on another incident happened and the victim and her friends were summoned by the counselors to the school office again. A grandmother of another student called blaming her of starting a fight with her granddaughter.

While the victim was trying to tell her side of the story, the counselor yelled at her to ‘kapugi lou guku.’ (Shut your mouth). ‘Kaukala mai loa ou aluaku e kiki lou guku’ (Speak and and I will come there and kick your mouth). The accuser blamed the victim for putting her uncle in jail.

According to the mom, a school counselor called telling her to talk to her daughter. The police will be questioning her as a witness. The daughter burst into tears saying, ‘Mom I’m not a witness, I am also a victim of this teacher’. Her mother was heartbroken on why she couldn’t tell her. The daughter told her she was afraid of not being believed and then beaten up by her.

The child relayed her feelings to her mother and myself. She sees the disapproval and animosity directed towards her from the counselors, some students and those related to the [alleged] offending teacher. She is not happy and doesn’t feel safe. 

She is all the more afraid and lacks confidence because her counselors do not believe her. She feels branded as a liar. Students related to the perpetrator are harassing her as the reason why their uncle is in jail. She felt afraid to go to school. According to the child, she is also concerned over her grades. Going to the bus stop has become uncomfortable.

The victim’s mother wept as she shared her concern for her child’s mental and emotional state of mind.

Her fear of the stress and burdens her child is carrying and who doesn’t feel safe to disclose. She wept and is at a loss of her child fearing to tell or report these kind of things happening to her in school. She is just an elementary school child.

The mom tried to call and left messages for the Director of Education to report what is going on at the Pavaiai Elementary School. She is afraid the molestations will be covered up. She is afraid for her daughter’s safety and mental health. Which is what led her to contact me for assistance.

To this day she has not received a call from DOE.

Our elementary children are maybe fighting a bigger battle on campus than we can imagine. It took children to expose what appears to be habitual sexual criminal behavior by a teacher. Unknowingly it took the same victimized children to expose a tainted and bizarre attitude amongst some of the critical school staff, in suppressing, threatening and coercing victimized children.

We should be concerned with the toxic environment the victims are forced to endure. Staff, teachers and counselors must dispel the negative and victim blaming brewing in their midst.

Hopefully a program or safe space can be created to safeguard children who are involved in intense criminal investigations and stressful court proceedings. These children need support and understanding. The schools should be a place where they can act normal, be empowered and feel safe.

 I chose to write this segment of this horrendous criminal behavior for us to see an obscure or invisible angle.

That is, how difficult it is for victimized children to report being molested or witnessing it. Reporting and telling the truth is another barrier where adults control the child’s psych.

To whom do our children turn too when they are surrounded by unreported sex predators and mean-spirited abusive counselors and teachers?

Thank you to all the mothers/ parents who are making a stand to protect their children not only from within their environments but also against an institutional system that is entrusted to protect and educate their children.

Ipu Avegalio Lefiti, Victim Advocate 

(ipulefiti53@gmail.com-252-4889)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Samoa News should point out that in the American system of justice, the accused is innocent until proven guilty; and as a result, the perpetrator described by the 7th grade students in Ipu’s letter is “alleged” to have committed the sexual abuse.

We don’t believe this takes away from the description in their re-telling of what happened to them in Malele’s classroom, at his hands. That a teacher’s behavior must be above approach is a given when dealing with young minds, or for that matter, in any position of leadership, as a teacher surely is in the classroom.

Another given is that AS-DOE must protect its students. Teaching comes in many forms. What is it teaching by being silent on this issue? What is its message to the community? ra)