MAF flew a medevac for a victim of sexual abuse to hospital – a tough task for our pilots as they see the victim and learn about the matter.
“As I prepared the stretcher for our medevac patient, I overheard snippets of the story... ‘young girl... raped by two men... if she dies, we will kill them’...” MAF pilot Bridget Ingham shared the tragic scene after she returned from a medevac flight for a 10-year-old girl who was the victim of a vicious sexual assault. “The reality sunk in as the girl was carried and laid on the stretcher on the ground next to our aircraft.” Bridget reflected.
“I crouched down next to the girl to try and reassure her ahead of the flight. Eyes full of emptiness looked back at me. Would this young girl ever smile again after what had happened to her? Would this plane trip to hospital only add to her nightmares?”
Tough conversations under the wing of the aircraft
While MAF pilot Mathias Glass prepared the cabin and paperwork for taking the girl to the hospital, Bridget located the parents in the group of bystanders.
“I learned that the girl had been raped at night, already some time ago,” Bridget recalled. “The men were not from this village. Meanwhile, two of the perpetrators had been caught and were being held in custody, but two others were still on the run.”
These are tough conversations to have under the wing of an aircraft. Pilots normally don’t have the time and peace of mind to engage in such a personal and in this case intimate way with their medevac passengers. Being an observer pilot meant that Bridget had the capacity to share a few words of comfort with the girl and her family using the local trade language of Tok Pisin.
“As I looked at the girl lying on the stretcher, I could not fathom how anyone could do such a thing to an innocent child. She kept on staring blankly into space. ‘Mi sori tru,’ I said to her parents (I’m really sorry). I didn’t have the words to say how heartbroken I was for her, and for them. All I could do was to hope that they knew,” Bridget shared later.
Mathias said the girl will get treatment in hospital but if there will be justice remains open.
“They try to save the life of the little child, the MAF agent told me, which is why they want the child to be flown to the hospital,” Mathias Glass said. “If the child does not survive, there will be compensation claims in the normal PNG way. If the child does survive the perpetrators might get away with it, and that’s not good. There needs to be justice!”
The report from the hospital
When details emerged later from the hospital, it revealed that Esther (not her real name) had struggled to speak out about the rape.
“Esther* is a 10-year-old girl from a very remote village who was admitted to our hospital and flown in by MAF. Esther is a Grade 2 student in the local village school. According to her parents, she had been generally unwell for about three months with intermittent episodes of vomiting, fevers, poor appetite, and generalised body weakness. She did not tell her parents about the incident due to fear of being punished or beaten up by her parents,” the residential medical officer (RMO) of the hospital said.
“One day, whilst walking to the garden with her older sister, she fainted and upon persistent questioning told her sister what happened to her. She finally told the parents that she had been assaulted by two men known to them. These men were their own 'wantoks' (relatives) living with them and taken care of by her parents.
“By the time of discovery, they were no longer living under the same roof. Her father was furious and wanted to take matters into his own hands, but the alleged perpetrators were no longer in the village. The parents decided to report the matter to the local community leaders and to bring her to the district hospital for assessment and treatment.
“At the hospital, we diagnosed Esther with malaria and treated her accordingly. However, due to the late presentation any physical evidence of her attack would be difficult to attain; and a physical examination would likely cause psychological stress to her without yielding many useful findings. Her parents have been informed of this.”
Will there be justice?
“Her parents still want the two alleged perpetrators brought to justice. They plan to bring their case to the police with the support of the community once she gets discharged from the hospital," the RMO said.
The Superintendent of the District Hospital underpins Mathias Glass assessment that it was unlikely the girl will get justice.
“With the village being so far away also, it is very likely that this issue will get resolved at the village with either compensation or revenge - and no true justice for the affected child. I suppose ultimately only God can bring that. A very sad story,” she said.
For many victims like Esther, shame and fear will cover up a lot of these crimes, not only in the remote villages of Papua New Guinea, but worldwide, especially in societies where men hold the power, and culture allows for it.
MAF PNG’s partnership with the PNG Tribal Foundation is taking their Senisim Pasin campaign (Change your way) to remote villages, and Esther’s village is one of six to be visited soon. This is one small step on the long journey to protect the next generation from violence, and also encourage people to seek legal ways to get justice for the crime instead of taking revenge through violence.
* The name of the girl has been changed for privacy reasons. For the same reason, no names of places and other people are mentioned, except for the MAF pilots involved.
Story by Mandy Glass
Photos by Annelie Edsmyr