Sexual abuse hotline in crisis

DANIELLE STREET
Last updated 05:00 28/11/2012

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A 24-hour telephone crisis line for sexual abuse survivors is scrambling for funding as the deadline approaches, which would see the service potentially cut to business hours.

Last month the Central Leader reported that Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP was looking at restructuring services after a government decision to reduce its funding by $200,000.

Since the announcement, HELP has managed to close the gap but is still seeking $116,000 to save the 24-hour crisis line.

Crisis service manager Aimee Stockenstroom says despite working with a range of government departments, the service is unable to produce all the money needed.

With less than a month's funding left, management staff have been forced to look at cuts and redundancies.

Unless last-minute money is found, the service's crisis line could be reduced to a more "9 to 5" operation, Ms Stockenstroom says.

"Early intervention should be seen as a survivor's right and we feel that frontline services for sexual abuse survivors should be funded by the Government," she says.

HELP was established 30 years ago by police surgeon Bill Daniels in response to seeing raped women being medically examined at the police station.

Nowadays the organisation runs a three-fold service by offering in-house counselling, a callout service and the 24-hour crisis line.

Funding for the service comes from a variety of sources including the Health Ministry, Ministry of Social Development, the police, ACC and Auckland District Health Board.

Ms Stockenstroom says it is essential that services such as HELP exist, and that they are available for survivors at any time of the day or night.

The crisis line takes about 12,000 calls a year from victims of sexual assault and rape.

Around 40 per cent of calls are received after hours.

"Our service is really tailor-made for survivors, so by providing it 24-hours-a-day our service is available when they need it. For us to have to figure out when that actually is compromises the integrity of providing the special service that we do."

While there are other agencies which operate 24-hour phone lines Ms Stockenstroom says, "even with the best of intentions they can potentially do long-term harm if they are not trained around sexual violence and the trauma it can create".

Others have come forward in support of the service.

Cathy Stephenson from Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care says the reduction of funding to HELP is a huge step backwards for victims and families.

"The forensic medical service relies on the specialist skills provided by crisis counsellors to support patients affected by sexual assault."

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Dr Stephenson says the care provided by HELP makes "all the difference to the long-term recovery and prognosis of the patients we see".

Rape Prevention Education survivor advocate Louise Nicholas says the Government is making a "terrible mistake" by cutting funding to the service.

"Without this specialised service, many more victims will find it difficult to ever recover from their experiences," she says.

While the countdown is on until proposed restructuring is implemented, HELP is urging the community to write to the Prime Minister, MPs and newspaper editors to show solidarity for the service.

Visit sexualabusehelp. org.nz for more information about Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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