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For Survivors Of Domestic Abuse In Papua New Guinea, Volunteers Offer Safe Havens

Two out of three women in Papua New Guinea are abused by intimate partners, according to aid groups and the World Health Organization. Volunteers called "human rights defenders" have helped hundreds.
Tule looks at the papers she helped Cathy Umba (left) obtain, a protective order against her abusive former husband. Umba carries the papers with her at all times. Source: Claire Harbage

Cathy Umba carries a camouflage-print backpack everywhere she goes. The mother of four can't read or write, but a stack of papers inside the backpack are her shield — they're proof that she has a court order protecting her from her ex-husband.

Umba, who puts her age near 42, got the court order last year, after her abusive husband tried to force her to return to him. "He hasn't bothered me since," she says in Tok Pisin, one of the major languages of the South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea.

The journey to those documents was long. It took Umba almost 20 years to feel safe, and she couldn't have done it without a network of volunteers working with survivors of domestic abuse in Port Moresby, the capital. Two out of three women in Papua New Guinea experience abuse at the hands of an intimate partner, according to aid groups and the World Health Organization. It's one of the highest rates of domestic abuse in the world.

About 18 years ago, Umba visited a cousin in the city of Mount Hagen. Relatives of her cousin's husband forced her into a marriage with a

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