Rape victims wait months for help

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 08:25 28/05/2013

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Young rape victims are among those being forced to wait up to three months to see a counsellor, as sexual violence support services are stretched to capacity.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has called for a nationwide review into the sexual abuse support sector, as agencies call for funding to be linked to crime statistics.

The number of police victim referrals to sexual violence agencies has more than doubled in the past year in many centres, with a 21.9 per cent jump in sexual crimes reported in Wellington last year.

Nationwide, reported sexual assaults rose by 14.9 per cent in 2011 and 1.3 per cent in 2012.

"It's a major social issue that's not going away in a hurry," Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP foundation manager Helen Sullivan said.

"We have seen a big increase in referrals in the last couple of years . . . between 600 to 700 new referrals coming to the agency each year. For us to say, ‘You're going to have to wait, pack away all your feelings and issues and wait for a couple of months,' is just not ideal," Sullivan said.

HELP offers a free service to men, women and children as young as 8. It has an agreement with police, who refer sexual violence victims to it.

It received about $200,000 from Child, Youth and Family, making up the shortfall in grants, donations, and ACC sensitive-claims funding, Ms Sullivan said.

But many crisis centres had come to rely heavily on the Ministry of Social Development's community response fund, introduced in 2009 during the economic downturn. It was stopped last year.

For HELP and Wellington Rape Crisis, this amounted to $50,000 and $23,400 a year that they now had to find elsewhere.

Wellington Rape Crisis manager Natalie Gousmett said the struggling sector was in desperate need of dedicated funding.

In the past three years, the number of people seeking a social worker at Wellington Rape Crisis had almost tripled.

"We would like to employ another counsellor, but we just can't. We know what we're doing is very important and very effective, but we can't fund it."

Evolve Wellington Youth Services, which provides health and social services for young people between 10 and 25, has just moved into bigger premises to meet increased demand.

Manager Kirsten Smith said they were "stretched thin", with a wait of two to three months for counselling.

Manawatu Abuse and Rape Crisis support had seen a 60 per cent increase in police referrals in the past year alone, manager Ann Kent said. It was likely counselling services would be cut back by up to 14 hours, because of the funding shortfall.

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Auckland HELP crisis services manager Aimee Stockenstroom said it had a "massive" waiting list for children, with 12 waiting to be seen.

"The police are doing a great job, but it would be great if the increase in reports of sexual assault and our funding could be linked."

Ms Bennett said she had taken responsibility for the sexual violence support sector this year.

"I am currently investigating the funding provided to the sector to determine exactly where it comes from, what it is provided for, and if any of this money is being used to cross-subsidise other services.

"I'm also planning to look into the nature of services being provided by organisations around the country, and how accessible those services are for the people who need them."

Detective Inspector Tusha Penny, head of the police child protection and sexual violence team, said police across the country were mandated to ensure victims of sexual violence had access to specialised crisis support ‘‘when it is available’’.

But roughly 30 per cent of the country, mainly out of the main centres, had inadequate specialised crisis support.

‘‘You should have the same services... no matter where you are,’’ she said.

Police were working with various government agencies to get more uniform services nationwide.

Latest figures suggested only nine per cent of sexual violence was reported, she said.

ACC is currently redesigning the way sensitive claims are paid, which could mean that more agencies would become eligible for funding.

In 2012, Hawera Rape Crisis was forced to close, and Wellington Rape Crisis almost closed one day a week until community support allowed it to stay open. Auckland HELP's 24-hour support line almost closed in 2011, until a last-minute Government funding reprieve kept it running.

- The Dominion Post

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