Young Pacific people’s understandings of family violence

Young Pacific people’s understandings of family vi…
01 Feb 2021


In June 2019 MSD commissioned Malatest International (Malatest) to conduct explorative qualitative research with young Pacific people to:

  • Broaden understanding about young Pacific people’s identity and worldview(s)
  • Explore how these understandings influence young Pacific people’s perceptions of healthy family relationships and family violence.


Ten ethnic-specific focus groups and strengths-based talanoa (conversations) were conducted with young Pacific people. 71 young Pacific people participated in the focus groups. Of these, 23 participants identified with mixed ethnicities. Participants were aged between 12 and 24 years, and either in school or tertiary education. Some were also employed. Ethics approval was granted by the MSD ethics panel on 16 August 2019. Data collection took place between 24th August and 27th September 2019.

Key Results

Young Pacific people’s worldviews were shaped by their Pacific identity, cultural values, beliefs and languages, and sense of belonging.

Young people are proud of being Pacific. All young people in the study were proud to identify as their specific ethnicity(ies) (e.g. Samoan, Tongan etc) and as Pacific peoples more broadly. Their culture, identity and sense of belonging were tightly enmeshed.

Young people connect to their culture and identity through their relationships. Young people felt connected to their culture and identity through relationships with family, their peers, and communities. Importance was placed on cultural values, collective wellbeing, and customary practices inherent in Pacific cultures. However, aspects of customary practices and religious beliefs were understood within two different contexts and two time periods. Some young people referred to ‘traditional’ practices and beliefs within the context of social, religious and political changes that occurred after Christianity and Colonisation arrived in the Pacific. Others questioned the cultural validity of  traditional practices and beliefs and contextualised these within understandings that existed prior to Christianity and Colonial influences. Ultimately, different understandings about the term ‘traditional’ influenced whether young Pacific people viewed customary and religious practices and collective wellbeing in a positive or negative context.

Experiences of growing up in New Zealand strongly influenced Pacific young peoples’ understandings, worldviews, identity and sense of belonging.

  • Young people are exposed to different societal experiences growing up in New Zealand:
    Young people’s experiences of racism and discrimination from Pacific (internal) and nonPacific (external) people negatively impacted on their sense of belonging to Pacific and New Zealand cultures and contexts. Young people generally described growing up in conflicting value-based systems and settings and being challenged with strengthening and maintaining their culture and identity in the face of racism and discrimination.
  • Young people embrace cultural values but experience cultural clashes:
  • Young people connected to culture through shared Pacific values and beliefs. Many highlighted differences and value-based conflicts between Pacific and Western cultures and held conflicting views about religion and tradition.
  • Young people establish their identity in a different environment from their parents:
  • Many young people had different experiences from their parents regarding educational and career pathways, parenting practices, young peoples’ roles and responsibilities, and other societal features such as access to technology, social media, and youth mental health services.

Young people are aware of different types of family violence and their impacts:

Family violence was defined as intimate partner violence (IPV), child abuse and neglect (CAN), physical, emotional, mental, financial and sexual abuse. Family violence was considered to negatively impact on young people’s relationships with parents (creating negative, fearful and resentful relationships), attitudes towards violence (normalising abusive behaviour, inhibiting alternative forms of communication and expression), and health and wellbeing (despair and a sense of helplessness, and emotional and social withdrawal). Young people also noted family violence adversely impacted the wellbeing of the perpetrator.

Young Pacific people held mixed views about physical discipline and abuse and generally considered discipline acceptable when it was used to teach children a lesson, adequate warnings and reasoning were provided, and punishment was not excessive. They also held ambiguous views about when physical discipline became abusive, noting that it was no longer acceptable when: parents hit for no reason, a beating continued despite a child having learned their lesson, punishment was uncontrolled and motivated by anger, punishment included verbal and emotional abuse, objects were used, and/or children received physical injuries (bleeding, bruising or scarring).

Young people commonly highlighted several barriers to help-seeking: Perceived barriers to seeking help- included victim-blaming attitudes, silence and shame, upholding the cultural value of respect, self-minimisation of issues, a desire to keep families together (despite dysfunction), and a fear of and for perpetrators (fear of consequences, dependence, and a belief that violence was not intentional).

Young people viewed gender roles and societal factors as risks for family violence: Gender roles (e.g. male dominance and an abuse of power, and clashes between traditional and contemporary understandings about the role of women) and societal factors and determinants of health and wellbeing (poverty, high stress and addictive behaviours) were perceived as increasing the risk of family violence within Pacific communities.

Young people identified that effective family violence prevention could encompass and promote:

  • Collective and community responsibilities
  • Shared understandings and integrated responses from service providers, families and churches
  • Church and ministers’ roles and responsibilities (e.g. to encourage open discussions about family violence)
  • Key family violence prevention and positive parenting messages and education that encourages and enables open conversations within families, enable parents and young people to understand and learn from each other, and encourage helpseeking.

Building resilience was considered one way of preventing family violence and helping young people and families to overcome and cope with adversity. Young people viewed resilience as:

  • Individual resilience, traits and experiences such as learning from mistakes, perseverance, a strong sense of identity, confidence and self-esteem, passion, commitment and drive, supportive families and open communication with parents.
  • Family resilience, responsibility and support where young people felt safe to talk, are valued and heard, have access to encouraging male role models, and responsive parental figures who are in equal intimate partnerships.
  • Community and societal resilience, responsibility and support which built on and valued cultural diversity, strengths and values, provided opportunities to celebrate all Pacific cultures, encouraged open and positive communication and relationships for all, built confident young people and Pacific youth leadership, eliminated
    discrimination and provided equal opportunities and acceptance for all.

The church community and religion were seen as both protective (i.e. a positive influence on respectful family relationships) and a risk (i.e. erroneous misinterpretations of Biblical texts) for family violence. Young people highlighted that churches and ministers could take an active role in encouraging church families and communities to talk openly with each other.

It is important to note that building resilient young people, families and communities is one way of preventing and responding to family violence but is unlikely to impact on the risk factors for family violence, such as poverty or young Pacific people’s experiences of racism, discrimination, and microaggression.

Page last modified: 13 Oct 2023