‘We chose death over being raped’ – PNG kidnap survivor speaks out

An insight into the age and temperament of the PNG kidnappers
An insight into the age and temperament of the PNG kidnappers . . . "What is happening in Bosavi is a glimpse, a dark glimpse of where our country is heading to." Image: Melvin Levongo/RNZ Pacific

By Don Wiseman, RNZ Pacific senior journalist, and Scott Waide, RNZ Pacific PNG correspondent

A woman who was part of a group kidnapped in Papua New Guinea in February has spoken out after the kidnapping and reported rape of 17 schoolgirls in the same area of Southern Highlands earlier this month.

Cathy Alex, the New Zealand-born Australian academic Bryce Barker and two female researchers, were taken in the Mt Bosavi region and held for ransom.

They were all released when the Papua New Guinea government paid a ransom of US$28,000 to the kidnappers to secure their release.

Alex, who heads the Advancing Women’s Leaders’ Network, said that what the 17 abducted girls had gone through prompted her to speak out, after the country, she believed, had done nothing.

A local said family members of the girls negotiated with the captors and were eventually able to secure their release.

The villagers reportedly paid an undisclosed amount of cash and a few pigs as the ransom.

Alex said she and the other women in her group had feared they would be raped when they were kidnapped.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape shared a photo on Facebook of two of the hostages, including professor Bryce Barker, after their release.
Professor Bryce Barker and an unnamed woman after being released by kidnappers in February. Image: PM James Marape/FB

‘My life preserved’
“My life was preserved even though there was a time where the three of us were pushed to go into the jungle so they could do this to us.

“We chose death over being raped. Maybe the men will not understand, but for a woman or a girl rape is far worse than death.”

Alex said they had had received a commitment that they would not be touched, so the revelations about what happened to the teenage girls was horrifying.

She said her experience gave her some insight into the age and temperament of the kidnappers.

“Young boys, 16 and up, a few others. No Tok Pisin, no English. It’s a generation that’s been out there that has had no opportunities. What is happening in Bosavi is a glimpse, a dark glimpse of where our country is heading to.”

The teenage girls from the most recent kidnapping are now safe and being cared for but they cannot return to their village because it is too dangerous.

Need for focus
Cathy Alex said there was a need for a focus on providing services to the rural areas as soon as possible.

She said people were resilient and could change, as long as the right leadership was provided.

Bosavi is one of the remotest areas in PNG, with no roads and few services

It suffered significant damage during earthquake in 2018.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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