Support agencies 'near collapse'

Support agencies for the sexually abused are within months of collapse after ACC rejected up to 90 per cent of claims in the last six months, says national rape crisis advocate, Dr Kim McGregor.

"It's a critical situation. Because of the impact [of the new clinical pathways] put in place in October, it has almost destroyed our sector," Dr McGregor said.

The New Plymouth Safer Centre is an exception however, with management saying the bulk of its work comes through work from other agencies.

Dr McGregor heads Rape Prevention Education, in Auckland, and is a member of the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence.

She and New Plymouth advocate Bob Stevens are battling to get justice for those they believe have been abandoned by ACC. ACC's figures released last week show that since October last year 90 per cent of people making ACC claims for sexual abuse counselling have either been refused cover or have been left waiting for a decision.

As a result, ACC Minister Nick Smith last week announced an independent review of ACC's new management of sexual abuse claims.

For six months, ACC assessors have required that claimants are diagnosed with mental illnesses which can be proved to be directly attributed to the abuse.

But Dr McGregor said the independent review would not be completed until July which was too late for some.

"The fact is, many survivors are suicidal and there was no alternative put in place," Dr McGregor said.

One Auckland woman had died since she was declined counselling, Dr McGregor said.

Safer Centre manager Lynne McKenzie-Brown, of New Plymouth, said Safer's funding had been greatly reduced by the new ACC regime but they would continue to work hard at finding alternative funding for those denied cover.

The ACC process was particularly unsuited for children for whom the review should be made urgent, she said.

The centre's major concern was that some who had been sexually abused were not coming forward for help because of the negative publicity.

The message for these people was to ensure they did get assistance, either from their GP, Victim Support or the Safer Centre.

"Don't give up," Ms McKenzie-Brown said.

Dr McGregor said most of the 600 registered private practitioners in New Zealand, had been forced to find other work. This had left only about 30 specialist sexual assault support agencies, such as Taranaki's Safer Families Centre, which were still employing registered ACC counsellors.

Unless there was a major injection of funding into these specialist services they too would be lost in the next few months, Dr McGregor said.

ACC had estimated that their changes would mean $5 million of the $20m paid out to claimants each year would be saved.

However, Dr McGregor praised the Government's move to support the recommendations from the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence.

"It was fabulous news for us."

Minister of Justice Simon Power has promised $1m over the next two years for sexual violence prevention education programmes. In addition, abuse survivor advocate Louise Nicholas was given continued funding for her role working across government agencies for the next three years.

This week is Rape Awareness Week.

Taranaki Daily News