Enough reports on sexual violence, let's do something about it

The disconnect between high-level policy-making and the day-to-day services we provide has been an issue for a very long ...

The disconnect between high-level policy-making and the day-to-day services we provide has been an issue for a very long time, says Eleanor Butterworth.

It's time to stop writing reports and take action against sexual violence, says Eleanor Butterworth.

OPINION: It's appeal time again for Wellington Rape Crisis. It's the point in the year where we reflect on the previous 12 months in relation to sexual violence in Aotearoa NZ, and where we are, as a community, in our mission to create a world free from sexual violence and the harm it causes.

One thing we think about is the different approaches being taken by governments – not just this one – and what's happening on the front lines of the sexual violence sector.

We all have the same goal, to reduce and ultimately end our country's shameful rates of sexual violence.

But there's a tension between the pressures on the agencies like Rape Crisis – to meet demand, build community capacity and reach marginalised individuals and communities – and broader government responses which focus on evaluating what already exists, examining current processes and going through a lot of consultation.

Both of these are important and necessary to create long-term change. But sometimes as a front-line agency it feels like we're left to wait ntsGwhilente  for  the information-gathering to be done, so our funding can be increased and secured – and so we know we'll still be here in the future for the people who need us.

In the past few years we've had a scoping report on sexual violence in Pasifika communities (Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2008); a discussion paper on improvements to sexual violence legislation (Ministry of Justice, 2008); a stocktake of kaupapa and tikanga Maori services (Te Puni Kokiri, 2010); a report from the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence with comprehensive recommendations (Ministry of Justice, 2010); a report on preventing sexual victimisation (Ministry of Women's Affairs, 2012); a review of the specialist sexual violence sector (Treasury, 2013). 

There are many more. They contain a lot of incredibly important information.

But in 2015 another report by a specialist sexual violence inquiry found, and recommended, many of the same things as the Sexual Violence Taskforce's report from 2009 –  which as this goes to print we understand the government supports and accepts these recommendations, but we need to see this turn into support at the frontline in terms of funding.

This isn't a problem specific to the current government. The disconnect between high-level policy-making and the day-to-day services we provide has been an issue for a very long time.

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At our agency, real people come to us for help every day, and we see the same issues again and again. The issue for us is being able to provide those services. It's really important to get a co-ordinated cross-government response designed for the future – but we also need adequate, secure funding now.

This is what things look like on the ground for an agency like Wellington Rape Crisis: it's stressful. This is hard work and the constant insecurity makes it worse.

When setting our budget for the new financial year, less than 18 per cent of our operating costs are secured, on one contract that is guaranteed past June 2016. The highest level of guaranteed funding we've ever had when setting a budget is 55 per cent, and that was for only one year.

Our largest sources of funding are consistently on one or two-year contracts, and they rarely if ever increase to match inflation.

Despite this, in the past two years we have delivered 30 per cent more counselling sessions and continued to provide secure support services for our clients.

But there are services we can't provide right now – that no agency in our area can because of the insecurity of funding. Things like outreach services for people who cannot come into our office because they have young children, it's too far, they have a disability, etc, so people miss out. It's a bad result for those people and for workers in our agencies that can't meet their needs.

Big picture change happens slowly, and the priorities for government ministers ebb and flow. But front line services need better, guaranteed funding now.

We can't pick up all the pieces of work like the systemic and structural changes recommended by the Law Commission. But we do help survivors of sexual violence pick up the fragments of their lives. We create change by supporting community responses and preventing harm from happening in the first place through education.

We can't keep waiting for the big changes to be decided. We're already making it happen.

We will continue to support the high-level work being done by government, but we need sustainable, long-term funding to do our core business: helping people recover from sexual violence.

This week is our annual appeal. Donations from ordinary members of the public are vital to keep our doors open. While we wait for better government funding, I hope the people of Wellington will continue to give generously to support us.

Sexual violence statistics

In Aotearoa 1 in 3 girls will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience by the age of 16. The majority of those incidences would be considered serious, with over 70 per cent involving genital contact. One in five women will experience sexual assault as an adult.

International studies suggest the figures are 1 in 7 for boys, and 1 in 2 for trans people.

Just in the Wellington district, in 2015, there were over 400 sexual assaults reported to police. Police estimate that only 7-10 per cent of sexual assaults are reported.

Approximately twice as many survivors seek support from ACC than report to police (this support is usually administered via agencies like Wellington Rape Crisis (Treasury 2013).

UK medical journal The Lancet found in 2014 NZ had the third highest rates of sexual assault in the world.

Treasury estimates sexual violence is the most costly of all crimes for our country

Eleanor Butterworth is agency manager for Wellington Rape Crisis.

 - The Dominion Post


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