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Attorney Lynnfer Wini-Maltungtung routinely finds herself in the position of explaining to her clients the extent of the crimes against them. In the Solomon Islands, there is little awareness of human trafficking among the general public—so little, in fact, that many victims are unclear on their status. The limited available statistics point to high rates of domestic violence and human trafficking, each of which thrives when information is scarce. One woman, who first heard the term ‘human trafficking’ during her conversation with Lynnfer, shared that she had been forced into a commercial marriage. Such marriages are so common that the practice has been normalized in many communities, as has abuse similar to that the client sustained at the hands of her husband. “She thought,” says Lynffer, “that as a wife, she [had] to endure all problems.”
Attorney Lynnfer Wini-Maltungtung (right) provides legal advice on rights and responsibilities in relation to a pending domestic violence case.
The woman is one of many that have received psychological and other forms of counseling at the Family Support Centre (FSC), which since 1995 has served gender-based violence and domestic-violence survivors in the Solomon Islands. Through its partnership with the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the May 2012 addition of Lynnfer to its staff, the FSC now offers hope to human-trafficking survivors. Lynffer has enabled the FSC to expand its services to include legal aid and to serve those who have been trafficked. Through weekly legal clinics, Lynnfer screens clients to determine if they are victims of human trafficking.
In addition to serving Solomon Islanders, the clinics are the only source of free legal service to foreign nationals; this is an important distinction in the fight against human trafficking as many victims are transported across national borders. To attract clients, the FSC hosts awareness-raising community events in villages across the country in hopes that those in need—or their friends and family members—will attend.
“The legal clinics help clients determine what it is that they want to achieve,” says Lynffer. Oftentimes her clients are seeking someone to whom they can tell their story or advice on their legal options, “without [the pressure of] having to follow up immediately”.
In her first three months of work, Lynffer provided legal counseling to 22 individuals and identified one case of human trafficking and 24 cases of domestic violence. She also assisted 29 others by writing letters warning their assailants of possible legal action against them, should the crimes continue. While a lack of resources, long wait-times for protection orders and sluggish police protection for victims make her work challenging, Lynffer says that serving indigent clients and helping to curb two of the country’s major woes—domestic violence and human trafficking—is worth all the effort.
To ensure that cases receive proper attention in the formal justice system, the FSC works closely with the Public Solicitor’s Office (PSO), whose lawyers supervise the weekly legal clinics and appreciate the services provided by the center. “[After clients’ cases are pre-screened,] counseling is often provided but no further legal action is required,” says Lappy Hite of the PSO. “This reduces our workload substantially as it [lowers] the number of walk-in clients to the PSO.” Hite added that center pre-screened cases arrive at the PSO with enough details to allow PSO lawyers to take swift legal action. “Often, we are able to begin the court process immediately,” Lappy adds.
Lappy also recognizes that the more relaxed atmosphere at the FSC encourages clients to share their often-painful stories more openly. “The legal clinics’ environment [allows survivors] to provide more details about their experience,” says Lappy. “This is immensely helpful in determining the correct action that needs to be taken.”
Lynffer maintains that a powerful tool in fighting human trafficking in the Solomon Islands and elsewhere is educating citizens about the problem and its prevalence. “We need to raise awareness about trafficking in persons,” she says. “It’s important that people understand that they can easily be victims of trafficking.”