Palmerston North community gather for seminar on sexual violence video

Warwick Smith/Stuff

Advocate against sexual violence Louise Nicholas spares her story in Palmerston North as part of a seminar promoting understanding around victims of sexual violence.

Silence and emotion hung in the air as about 80 Manawatu people listened to stories of rape, childhood abuse, and the need to speak out.

Palmerston North's Convention Centre was packed with people on Monday for a seminar on sexual violence, hosted by Manline.

Advocates against sexual violence spoke of their experiences to people working within the health sector, to raise awareness and understanding of the issue and the barriers faced.

Advocate against sexual violence Louise Nicholas shares her story in Palmerston North as part of a seminar promoting ...
Warwick Smith

Advocate against sexual violence Louise Nicholas shares her story in Palmerston North as part of a seminar promoting understanding around victims of sexual violence.

Ken Clearwater, a rape victim and advocate against sexual violence, spoke of his own troubled journey.

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At just 12 years old, Clearwater was raped and sexually violated over a period of time by an 18-year-old boy.

Louise Nicholas, left, and Ken Clearwater in Palmerston North for a seminar on sexual violence.
Warwick Smith

Louise Nicholas, left, and Ken Clearwater in Palmerston North for a seminar on sexual violence.

The offender was sentenced  on two charges of indecent assault in 1965.

Clearwater told the audience how being abused fuelled his rage as a young man.

As a teenager Clearwater was expelled from his school in Christchurch after beating up a teacher and school prefect.

He was later arrested for assaulting a police officer. He lost his job at a meat works after hitting another employee in the face, following a confrontation.

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"Violence kept going on in my head."

Clearwater said he finally understood he needed help following a verbal confrontation when playing a game of pool.

He said his childhood abuse took him into a "place of self-destruction".

"I went home and I got into bed and I started crying. I got into the foetal position and I cried and I thought there is something wrong with me."

In 1991 Clearwater did not know where to go or who to ask for help.

After being repeatedly turned down from services who told him they could not help him, he was eventually put in contact with a pyschologist.

Clearwater said it was vital for victims of sexual violence to have support.

He now works with other male victims through his role as the national manager for the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust.

"What I would love is that one day our society understands the damage that sexual violation not only can do to women and girls, but to men and boys."

Clearwater told Stuff that the mental health system needed to support, understand and be trained in dealing with sexual violence cases.

Abuse and Rape Crisis Support Manawatu manager Ann Kent said the mental health system did not always have the resources available to best support sexual abuse survivors.

Advocate Louise Nicholas also shared her story with the audience.

Nicholas said she was raped by a policeman – who has permanent name suppression – in the small town of Murupara when she was 13.

She told Stuff the biggest barrier for a victim of sexual abuse was being believed.

Nicholas first disclosed her abuse to her teacher as a teenager.

"When she kept saying 'I want to help' and when I told her it was just like this massive, from the dark into the light moment."

Her teacher was "absolutely honest" and told Nicholas she would support her but needed extra help to do so.

Nicholas said it was OK for people to ask for help.

On a national level there was money going into the healthcare system to help sexual abuse victims, but Nicholas said it was like putting a "sticky plaster on".

"That's not the way. It's about government coming down to grass roots – talk to those that are actually doing [the] work and talk to our survivors."

Manawatu nurse Jackie Pacey said the "powerful" speeches showed her the gaps in the support available for sexual violence victims.

She said she hoped to use her newfound understanding to help her patients.

 - Stuff

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