Responding to sexual violence in Fiji: Colonial law and customary justice

J. Whitehead

Monash University,

Sexual violence and responses to such offences are a global concern. Within Fiji, where the rate of sexual violence is above the global average, the traditional criminal justice responses to these offences are historically based upon colonial law. It included victimising requirements, such as the corroboration of a survivor’s testimony. The traditional criminal justice system has also replaced customary forms of dispute resolution that are a fundamental aspect of Fijian society. As such, the individualistic focus of the colonial and western criminal justice system is not an appropriate response to sexual violence offences in Fiji. Instead, customary mediation ceremonies, such as bulubulu, provide the victim with the collective support of a community. This Indigenous form of restorative justice also provides a symbolic apology that is contextualised to Fiji and the iTaukei people. However, international and local institutions have raised concerns over the use of bulubulu in cases of sexual violence. This is primarily due to the patriarchal construction and performance of the ceremony. By engaging with victim advocates, legal practitioners, and inmates currently undergoing rehabilitation, this study aimed to better understand what constitutes an appropriate response to offences along the sexual violence spectrum. The findings suggest that a restorative method to address many of these offences is both appropriate and possible, and can be designed by local stakeholders to provide a holistic response to sexual violence within Fiji.


John Whitehead is a PhD candidate at Monash University, currently completing his thesis on Indigenous Fijian forms of restorative justice. He has published on Child Sexual Abuse and restorative responses, and currently has a chapter under publication on the use of restorative responses for sexual violence offences.


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