24/7 sexual abuse helpline faces closure

AMY MAAS
Last updated 12:30 15/12/2011
Carmel Sepuloni
JOHN CHAPMAN
CARMEL SEPULONI: Says the lack of funding demonstrates "a blatant disregard by National for victims of sexual abuse and of their safety and wellbeing".

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Auckland's only sexual violence crisis centre faces closure tomorrow after failing to secure Government funding to keep running.

The Auckland Sexual Abuse Helpline has lost the $365,000 Government funding it relies on from the health and social development ministries.

The crisis centre, which responds to around 10,000 phone calls a year and 500 call outs, has until midday tomorrow to secure funding or it will be forced to cut services and make at least 14 staff members redundant.

It is making frantic last calls to Government ministers today in an attempt to secure funding but has so far failed to do so.

The lack of funding has surprised crisis services manager Iona Winter, who said the centre had applied for around 70 grants in the last year for all services - including adult therapy, youth therapy, child and family therapy, court support and restorative justice.

"The crisis line is in the frontline, so if we don't get the funding, all our services will suffer," she said.

"We're the only 24/7 service in Auckland and if we don't get funding, people won't have access to the service.

"We've been in operation for 30 years so it's a terrible shame a service like ours is being cut. It's not rocket science, you only have to look at news and media reports to see that sexual violence is on the rise. It rose 12.4 per cent last year."

Winter is today making calls to various ministers in an appeal for help.

In a statement, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said: "My department, along side health and justice, are currently working through solutions for the Auckland Sexual Abuse Helpline and I am confident that we can come to a resolution."

The centre's plight has also outraged many people in the community, including former staffer Kirsty McCully who has created an online petition in an effort to put public pressure on the Government.

The petition has racked up about 5000 supporters since it went online on Saturday.

"It's not a good look for a new Government. You would like to think that the Government wouldn't want to lose a service like this and I'm sure they realise how important it is, but it takes public pressure for them to take notice of these things.

"The biggest danger in losing the funding is that it threatens the viability of the agency. They also act as a call out service for when people report a sexual assault with the police.

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"We would all like to think that if something like that happened to a friend or family member, they would have that type of support with someone who is trained to deal with those situations."

It has also received dozens of comments from victims of sexual abuse who have used the service.

One woman wrote: "This organisation has been vital to help me find a small amount of healing and closure. Sexual abuse is not something that ever goes away, the effects will affect me for the rest of my life, as they have already.

"Knowing that there is an organisation that can help at any time I need them, is understanding, is affordable and has experienced and caring staff able to offer real help is not a luxury but a necessity."

Newly-elected Waitakere MP Carmel Sepuloni has also added her voice to the furore, saying the lack of funding demonstrates "a blatant disregard by National for victims of sexual abuse and of their safety and wellbeing".

She has called on Auckland MPs to work together to ensure the service remains in operation.

The Change.org petition can be viewed online.

- Auckland Now

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