1. Can you please tell us briefly about the outstanding work you do to end sexual violence in our island community?
In my capacity as the Speaker of the Guam Legislature and as the Legislative Chair of the committee that has oversight of both education and women’s affairs, I have worked to raise awareness and support policy that puts an end to sexual violence in our community. I was the primary co-sponsor of the laws against human trafficking. I have sponsored resolutions raising awareness about sexual violence and commending the efforts of community advocacy groups who work hard every day to provide services to victims of sexual violence. I have also used the forum of my weekly radio address to encourage our community to ban together to prevent sexual violence. I have supported various community groups that combat sexual violence by attending meetings, helping to organize and speak at community events, and participating in community waves.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a spokesperson for women and women’s rights at local, regional and international forums. I have delivered keynote addresses about the advancement of women and young girls here, in the Marshall Islands, Chuuk and Palau.
I am one of the founding members of Fuetsan Famalao’an (Women’s Strength), a group of local women leaders who came together in response to the announcement of the movement of Marines from Okinawa to Guam. In particular, we voiced legitimate concerns about how the military build-up would impact the lives and safety of local women and children.
In local forums and presentations I always say, “na påra” – enough is enough. We must stop the violence in our community. I will continue to use my voice to help bring an end to sexual violence.
2. What do you see are Guam’s strengths to support the efforts to end sexual violence, and where do you feel Guam could improve and why?
Strength: Because Guam is a small island community, we are all closely interconnected. In the Chamorro culture this has translated into the custom of inafa’maolek – the act of making things good for each other. We have an innate ability to care for those around us, especially during times of crisis. I think of how our families come together during a death, and despite the pain of the loss, we are able to help each other and grow stronger. Or the way we come together as an island community during a natural disaster. We are able to set aside our differences and rebuild our island, together. This is a strength that must be used to end sexual violence. The increase in crime and sexual violence in our community is a crisis, and the only way we are going to stop it is if we work together in the spirit of inafa’maolek.
Need for Improvement: Since statistics show that sexual violence often involves a perpetrator who is known to the victim as either a close family member or friend, more needs to be done to provide safe spaces for victims to go to report this violence. Just as our small, interconnected community is a strength in combating this crisis, it can also be a weakness. Victims are often afraid to report what has happened to them because they fear breaking up their family, or being ostracized. Victims should never have to feel this way, especially our young girls, who may not even know there are resources available to them. We need to strengthen services for victims at every level and provide them with the resources they need to feel safe and empowered. We also need to educate our young boys and girls about healthy relationships and respect. More could be done in the schools to teach our children about the impacts of sexual violence, the resources available to them if they have been assaulted, and how to treat and respect others.
3. Please tell us about any current projects and work that you are presently doing and/or any upcoming plans.
Our island needs more information and statistics on the advancement of women in our community. My office is working on legislation to improve data collection related to women and women’s affairs. For example, we are drafting a bill that would require the tracking of data on the number of women-owned small businesses to eventually be able to provide a preference for these businesses in government contracts. I also see a need for more frequently released statistics and data about sexual and other types of violence in our community to increase awareness and strengthen policy. I am also interested in strengthening the role of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs in advancing opportunities for our local women.
I am committed to supporting the efforts to open a one-stop Family Justice Center for victims and their families. I truly believe in this idea, because I know it will help victims feel safe when reporting violent crimes. I would also like to explore and introduce legislation that will help to provide more resources for the victims of violent crimes, and that will help to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.
As an educator and a mother, I am always encouraging more education about sexual violence. I would like to work more closely with the Department of Education to develop curriculum and programs that will promote healthier relationships and educate our children about sexual violence and how to prevent it.
4. Who else would in our island community do you feel is also deserving of this honor and why?
I was very moved and inspired by the story of Monique Baza. When she spoke up about what happened to her, and challenged us all to improve the way victims are treated, I was blown away by her strength and courage. Since her assault, she has become a voice for victims and has really pushed our community to do better. I admire her efforts and believe that she is definitely a visionary voice.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) announces the Visionary Voice Awards annually. These awards, offered in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month each April, recognize the creativity and hard work of individuals around the country who have demonstrated outstanding advocacy and community work to end or prevent sexual violence. The NSVRC relies on each state, territory, and tribal coalition to select one outstanding individual deserving of this honor (only coalitions may make selections). While we encourage coalitions to look to their local community partners for outstanding individuals, coalitions may select the person to receive the award on whatever basis they wish.
GCASAFV has participated in this since 2010.