30 May I don’t know you – but thank you for being brave enough to report your rape

How much longer must Samoa wait for a Sex Offender’s Register? How many more people are going to be raped by previously convicted sex offenders in the meantime?

She was a year older than my daughter. A student at University, one of the first from her aiga to study at tertiary level. On that day, she woke up early like a few thousand others, to attend the Independence March, this time held at Tuanaimato Complex. I remember my days as a student marching in the parade and I think about the excitement of the occasion, the thrill of being there in person to celebrate Samoa’s Independence – hot and sweaty in the scorching heat yes – but excited to be there all the same. I wonder, was that how it felt for her that morning?

When the march ended, she wanted to go to town. There were no buses, so she got into one of a multitude of taxis lined up at Tuanaimato, and asked the driver to take her the short drive to Apia.

Instead, he took her to a deserted spot somewhere – and raped her.

When he finally released her, she reported the attack to the police. Because she had memorised his license plate number, police were able to track him down.

Latana Fretton, the 37yro taxi driver, is a husband, and a father to a young family. According to the Court, he also has a previous conviction for sex offences. Two weeks ago he was found guilty and will be sentenced tomorrow.

I think about the terror, pain and desperation this young woman must have felt, the kind that too many of us know too well – and I cry.

I think about the strength and presence of mind it took to memorise the license plate even through such a traumatic experience. The courage required to go to police. The endurance it took to go to the hospital and get examined by a medical doctor – another invasive experience – so evidence could be gathered.  The power required to stand up in Court and speak her rape out loud.  I think of all this and I am in awe of this young woman. So much admiration.

I think about my daughter in that situation, in that taxi – and I am angry. So very angry. We should all be this angry. Whether we have daughters or not.

As the rest of the country prepares to celebrate Samoa’s 55th Independence this Thursday, this young woman will mark the one year anniversary of her brutal attack.

I have questions. So many questions.

Why was a convicted sex offender able to get a taxi driver’s license? When we use public transport, we should feel confident that the driver isn’t going to rape us, or at least, that they aren’t already a proven abuser of some kind. What are the Land Transport Authority’s requirements for a license? What checks, if any, are done on people we trust to drive us from A to B on taxis and buses? Does the LTA require a police report on taxi drivers? How reliable is a Samoa police report anyway?

Commissioner Keil recently explained the new and improved data system that Samoa Police are implementing. It’s called ‘Police Pro’, introduced and funded by the Australian Federal Police.

He said, “This new system will assist with the issuing of police reports and clearances. It’s going to help keep us more accountable and make our records much more reliable and trustworthy.”

“We want the trust of the public. I want the trust of our government officials, our donors, our businesses, our community. We want them all to be able to say, that when they come to us for clearance on an individual, that ‘I know whatever clearance they give me on this person that it’s a true and complete one.’

Is Police Pro going to help stop attacks like Fretton’s from happening to other women? I hope so.

What about the long-awaited, much-discussed Sex Offender’s Register (SOR)? When will Parliament pass this Bill? How much longer must we wait? How many more people are going to be raped by previously convicted sex offenders in the meantime?

When it becomes law, will the SOR ensure that offenders can’t get taxi driver’s licenses?

To the young woman – I don’t know you, but thank you for being brave enough to report your attack.

It means this rapist will be taken off our streets, out of our taxi cabs and he won’t be able to rape another passenger. It means more of us will know and understand how vitally necessary it is to improve the way public transport driver’s get their licenses, and how urgent it is to put a monitoring system in place for sex offenders in this country.

Your choice to report your attack also helps tell others out there, that rape is a crime and they can and will go to prison for it.

Perhaps even more important, you give hope to other survivors of sexual violence. Too often we are told to stay silent and for many, when they do come forward to report a rape, the system is not kind to them and they are not supported throughout the legal process.

I don’t know anything about what that process was like for you. I hope you had police and medical professionals who were kind, believing and helpful. I feel certain you had loving family who walked with you every step of the way through the case. I do know that at many different points along the way, you could have been tempted to withdraw your complaint. Chosen the quiet – and often – the easier way forward.

But you didn’t. And tomorrow a Supreme Court Justice will sentence your rapist.

I pay tribute to your courageous example. I hope and pray you are able to find healing and continued strength as you move forward.

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