Victim support group marks 30 years
A support group for survivors of sexual abuse is marking its 30th anniversary this month - but says it is no celebration.
The Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP organisation was established in 1982 by police surgeon Dr Bill Daniels, says clinical manager Kathryn McPhillips.
"He saw women who had been raped having medical exams at the police station, and without support.
"So he instigated setting up the counselling and medical support for women reporting rape," she says.
"That was a pretty radical thing to do 30 years ago."
The organisation is holding an event next week to honour the people who have worked supporting sexual abuse survivors over the last three decades.
"We are careful not to call it a celebration, because 13,000 women and children have been affected by sexual abuse in that time. That's nothing to celebrate," Ms McPhillips says.
The organisation has been plagued by funding troubles in recent times, late last year it came within a whisker of closing down after losing critical funding from the central government.
However, it was saved at the eleventh hour with the Ministry of Health providing six months funding.
Currently it runs off a "patchwork of funding" from the health ministry, the police, Ministry of Social Development, ACC and the Auckland District Health Board.
It costs $1.6 million to run the service at current levels, but it estimates that $2 million is needed to better meet demand.
Ms McPhillips says in 30 years the organisation has grown to see staff now respond to around 250 people a week, by phone or in person.
"Our demand way outstrips supply. We've got about 40 people waiting at the moment for counselling or therapy, and that could take months," she says.
"When survivors ring wanting to come in, it's not something they decide on a whim, it's usually that they've got a crisis because they had a flashback or seen the offender, or court's coming up or prison release is coming up - and they need to be seen now."
Abuse survivor Nicki Tongs was directed to the organisation by police after she had decided to take her case to court.
Ms Tongs had been sexually abused by a babysitter on an almost weekly basis between the ages of eight and 10.
Her abuser returned to her life when she was 26, at which point she decided she needed to do something to help protect other people.
She describes going through the courts as an "emotional rollercoaster".
"I don't think I could have got through the process without the support I had around me," Ms Tongs says.
"I had great family support, but it was essential having the support from HELP, because family and friends can't tell you what the process is going to be like they just don't have that knowledge."
Her abuser was found guilty on all counts.
Ms McPhillips says only three in 10 cases reported to police make it to court, and only one of those will result in a guilty verdict.
"The more guilty verdicts we can get the more there is a system of accountability in our society, so the less likely we are to perpetuate sexual violence in our communities."
The 30 Years of HELP event is on October 12 from 7.30pm at the Mecca Stonehouse in Mission Bay.
Contact HELP on 623 1700 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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