Pacific Island couple breaking the cycle of domestic violence

Having been exposed to abusive behaviour growing up in Pacific Island homes, husband and wife Moughan Sali-Siaki and Judy Fakaosi Siaki, set about breaking the cycle of domestic violence in their own relationship.

They wanted to create a far different experience for their children.

The Ipswich couple, who are both 28, are high school sweethearts and have been together since they were 16 years old and living in Hawke's Bay, on New Zealand's North Island, before moving to Australia in 2017.

"Things were rolling smoothly in the beginning but as we ... got to know each other, things started to become toxic, controlling," Moughan said.

Moughan said he would control where Judy went, who she spent time with and how she dressed.

"Even going to the shops, I'd control her and tell her not to go there because [someone] will probably look at you a certain way."

But the behaviour went both ways, Judy said. 

"I didn't want him to go places because I was insecure about myself," she said.

"I would always just imagine … he was going to cheat on me, or a girl would come up to him.

"My excuse would always be, 'I trust you, but I don't trust your friends'."

Judy said she grappled with trying to control Moughan while he tried to control her.

'I can't do this anymore'

It was a dynamic which continued even when Judy moved to Dunedin, on New Zealand's South Island, for university.

"It was really hard for him to keep tabs on me, so instead of going on the big orientation activities, I would hide in my room and talk to my boyfriend because he wouldn't let me go to these things," Judy said.

"There was only one time that I went clubbing and it was behind his back. 

"I really wanted to experience being a university student and party with my friends and do the usual things university students do. 

"I just couldn't do that in my first year, so I thought in my second year, I just want to have fun and make the most of my life while I'm a university student. 

"That's when I said to Moughan, 'I can't do this anymore. The control is too much'."

And with that, the pair broke it off.

"What actually gave me the courage to cut ties was my father, because at the same time, he was starting to make changes in our family and introducing what a safe relationship is," Judy said.

Unlearning behaviours

Both Moughan, who is Samoan, and Judy, who is Samoan and Tongan, say their cultural upbringing shaped a lot of their behaviour toward one another.

"In the Pacific Island family … the father is traditionally in charge," Moughan said.

"He makes the rules, and the wife has to listen."

Judy said the hierarchy was similar in her home growing up.

"My father was the head of the house, he would make a lot of the decisions, and whatever my dad wanted us to do, we would just do it," Judy said.

"Back in my childhood, all I could remember is me just not wanting to ask questions, being always fearful all the time. 

"Sometimes when my father would do schoolwork with me, I'd be really, really scared to ask questions or even answer because if I got it wrong, well, that would be a smack."

Moughan's exposure to physical violence growing up was something he actively, from an early age, was determined not to repeat.

"I did promise myself when I was younger and when I had witnessed all the violence in our home, I promised myself that I would never touch a woman."

He said the one occasion he had come close to physical violence, had left him and Judy shaken.

Breaking the cycle

When the pair finally got back together the following year in 2013 and eventually got married, they settled back into their old behaviour, controlling, and provoking each other.

That was until Judy's father, a deacon who runs relationship courses, intervened, and asked them to take part in the program.

"I told my father-in-law, 'I know this stuff'," Moughan said.

He said the course changed how he thought about violence in relationships.

"It wasn't just physical violence, it was emotionally, spiritually."

While the course opened Moughan and Judy's eyes to the damage caused by their behaviour to one another, meaningful change didn't happen overnight. 

"We would find ourselves making the changes and then we would relapse," Judy said.

But they kept at it.

"At first it was really difficult to change from having power and control, to being equal with my wife," Moughan said.

Moughan said the experience "hit me deep" and turned his family's life around. 

"My three girls mean a lot and I want them to see how I treat my wife," he said.

"And hopefully in the future, they grow up and choose the right man.

"I've seen a lot of toxic relationships within my friends group.

"Some of them I just had to walk away because it brought back flashbacks."

'Violence isn't love'

Judy said something that her father told her, has always stayed with her.

"I will never forget my father telling me 'violence is not love'," she said.

"If you really love your family, if you really love your children, then you wouldn't hit them because that's not how you show love. 

"Love is nurturing, love is creating those moments with your family, being patient, showing kindness and understanding."

Judy said for so long they would create a facade that everything was OK in their relationship.

"Now that we're well into what we've been doing for many many years, which is creating a safe and healthy relationship for our family, our marriage and our children, it doesn't take a lot of energy to create that facade that everything is good, because everything is good at home.

"We're so proud of the changes we've made as a family and the childhood that we have created for our children." 

Following their own experience with the course, Judy and Moughan now facilitate the program for other couples. 


Photo source ABC Radio Australia Caption: Moughan Sali-Siaki,Judy Fakaosi Siaki and their family,