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American Samoan accused of raping workers

05 June 2013, 12:30

Pago Pago — An American Samoa man is accused of repeatedly raping a teenager and two other women he brought from the neighbouring country of Samoa to work in his home and help care for his nine children, threatening to send them out of the US territory if they refused his sexual advances.

Police said in a complaint filed against Hanipale Malae that authorities discovered the abuse after a 27-year-old woman ran away from Malae's home in Manua in May. The complaint says the woman was picked up by police and taken to a hospital, where she said Malae had been sexually abusing her and two other women who lived in the home as domestic workers.

The complaint includes graphic accounts from all three women describing repeated sexual assaults. Malae is charged with raping a 15-year-old and a 20-year-old, along with misdemeanour assault of the 27-year-old who first reported the alleged attacks. Malae faces 12 total charges, including felonies of rape, sodomy and deviant sexual assault.

Malae, believed to be in his late 50s but whose age was not given in court documents, pleaded not guilty on Monday in the High Court of American Samoa. His lawyer Sharron Rancourt says he is presumed innocent.

The 27-year-old woman said she had lived with Malae for at least eight years as an employee, and that she was forced into sex within days of arriving. She said she was forced to have sex with Malae and his wife in 2005, and earlier this year recruited a 15-year-old from Samoa to work in the home.

The 15-year-old told police Malae forced himself on her soon after going to work for him, the complaint said.

Criticism from advocates

"It is unfortunate that rumours in the community and premature statements from various advocates paint a picture of Mr Malae before he himself has seen the police report, conducted [an] investigation or had an opportunity to confront the witnesses in court," Rancourt said.

The third alleged victim, a 20-year-old woman, said she came to live with Malae in March to help raise his children, but was forced to have sex repeatedly in a room where his 10-year-old daughter was sleeping.

Prosecutor Mitzie Jessop said she couldn't comment on the case "because our investigation is not complete".

The case drew immediate criticism from advocates against domestic violence, who said it is an extreme indication the territory needs stronger laws against human trafficking.

"This type of lawlessness has been going on for years," said Ipu Avegalio-Lefiti, a founding member of the American Samoa Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, as well as a vice chairperson of a separate task force against family violence.

"Because we had no name for it, it was allowed to stay under the radar," she said.

Lucrative job offers

Since 2005, several bills dealing with human trafficking have been considered in the territory's Legislature but have never made it out of committee. A group of territorial House members has introduced another measure this year that is pending in committee.

Territorial Representative Larry Sanitoa, a sponsor of the current bill, said he hopes lawmakers will approve it this session. American Samoa's first human trafficking case involved more than 200 workers, mostly women, trafficked from Vietnam to work in a garment factory. Korean factory owner Kil Soo Lee was arrested in 2001 and later convicted of human trafficking.

That case was an "embarrassment for American Samoa nationally and obviously the recent horrid reports on Hannipale Malae should definitely urge members of the Legislature to do something now before it's another 'thorn in the flesh'", Sanitoa said.

Avegalio-Lefiti said the most lucrative job offers in American Samoa for women from Samoa are for baby sitters, elderly care and domestic work.

Avegalio-Lefiti said women like the three who say they were assaulted are lured by promises of good wages, room and board and freedom with a chance for education and other job opportunities.

"These ignorant girls were subdued not only by his cruelty but the fear of returning home with nothing," she said. "Or the dream of someday the nightmare will end."

A pretrial conference for Malae was set for 19 August.

- AP


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