Rugby players tackle domestic violence

The Cook Islands national sevens squad pose for a picture in Rarotonga.

Leading New Zealand rugby players are joining police from New Zealand and the Cook Islands in an international effort to discourage domestic violence in the tiny Pacific island nation of the Cooks.

A group of 10 players, coaches and managers from New Zealand rugby clubs are visiting Rarotonga, this week for a week-long tour of schools and community groups to support the New Zealand Aid Program’s Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence Program (PPDVP).

Since the PPDVP began working with New Zealand rugby four years ago, more than 40 players had visited countries in the Pacific as part of the program, said a statement from the New Zealand Police.

Head of the PPDVP in New Zealand, Cam Ronald, said one of the best ways of preventing violence was for young men and women to see role models promoting the message that violence was not okay.

“It is very positive that so many of our young sportsmen, many of them with connections to the Pacific want to take a stand against violence,” Ronald said in the statement.

Previous PPDVP campaigns were taken to Samoa and Tonga, where rugby is the most popular sport among young men.

Ronald said the Cook Islands was one of the first Pacific countries to open a dedicated Domestic Violence Unit (DVU) in its police force in 2006 and it had continued to build its capability to deal with domestic violence.

“New Zealand Police assists five countries in the Pacific as part of the PPDVP: Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Kiribati and Vanuatu. All of these now have dedicated DVUs,” said Ronald.

“More than half of the police in the Pacific have undergone training in dealing with domestic violence. It’s important for victims to know they have a voice and that police will listen to them.”

The visit coincides with International White Ribbon Day, on Nov. 25 and the players would take part in White Ribbon Day parades and activities in Rarotonga.

During the week, they would visit schools and a prison, and promote the message to the wider community, while training with young rugby players.

Violence against women remains a stubborn problem in Pacific island countries and is often of the agenda of the annual Pacific Island Forum (PIF) meeting.

At this year’s PIF meeting in Rarotonga in August, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a major initiative to empower women and promote gender equality in the Pacific island states with funding of 320 million AU dollars (333.13 million US dollars) over 10 years.

Gillard launched the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Initiative, aiming to train women leaders and fight violence against women.

The Cook Islands, with a resident population of about 18,000, is a sovereign state in free association with New Zealand, which means it has its own legislative powers, but its citizens have New Zealand citizenship.

An estimated 50,000 Cook Islanders live in New Zealand and another 15,000 in Australia.

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