29 September 2021

Unprecedented demand from sex abuse victims for ACC support: 'It makes you want to cry'

A news report from RNZ by Hamish Cardwell

There has been an almost 400 percent increase in unsuccessful attempts by sex abuse victims to get mental health support through ACC over the past 15 months.
In that time survivors have tried more than 10,000 times to get help but were rejected.
Those who manage to secure a booking face waitlist times that have more than doubled.
ACC says it comes down to a lack of capacity among its sensitive claims mental health service suppliers.

Services at capacity - 'It's so disheartening'
Earlier this year Wellington woman Cassandra Saunders made the tough decision to seek mental health treatment for historical sexual abuse.
She contacted every mental health supplier and multiple individual therapists on ACC's accredited list for the capital - dozens and dozens in all - and got rejection after rejection.
"[They said] 'no we don't have space, no we don't have anything'. It makes you want to cry because it's just so disheartening knowing that even if you want help there's no one out there that can because their load's already too big."
Saunders said it looked like her best option was on a waitlist for an appointment up to a year away, or sooner at a different provider if she was willing to have a trainee psychologist sit in.
She did finally manage to wrangle an appointment - though lockdown put paid to it.
Wellington Rape Crisis general manager Kyla Rayner said demand was unprecedented.
"It's at the highest that we've ever seen in the history of our organisation. I've been in this role five years and the agency itself has been around over 40." 

Grim stats show system 'failing' survivors
ACC's national waitlist figures indicate that failed attempts by sex abuse survivors to get mental health help increased by 387 percent and reaching 4131 in the most recent quarter from 847, 15 months ago.
Sexual assault survivors' calls to suppliers to try and get mental health support were rejected more than 10,000 times in the past 12 months due to lack of capacity.
Many sensitive claim mental health support suppliers simply do not have room on their books to take more people on.
In fact, referrals were declined 2.8 times more often than clients were actually placed onto waitlists.
Weighted average national wait times have more than doubled in a year to more than 9 weeks, from 4.3 weeks.
Waitlist times are far longer in some places. In the three months to May average waitlist times stretched up to 25 weeks in Lower Hutt, 22 in Nelson, and 20 in Masterton.
The size of waitlists have also grown. The number of spots claimed by people has more than doubled, up 124 percent in the past 15 months - from 656 to 1473.
Green Party ACC spokesperson Jan Logie said delays compound the harm to survivors.
"Flashbacks, nightmares, terrors, really struggling to keep functioning.
"And to get to that point and then [survivors having] to make call after call after call to [suppliers and they say] 'sorry ... can't help'.
"It's an absolute failure of our system." 

ACC has doubled therapist numbers, but demand skyrocketing
ACC said the figures are a snapshot provided by services as part of a quarterly survey, and do not include people who get immediate treatment and avoid waitlists altogether.
Only a third of suppliers offer a waitlist.
The numbers also represent attempts to get access to services, not individual cases, and people likely make many attempts for support from multiple providers.
ACC said annual sensitive claims have more than doubled in five years to nearly 13,000, jumping 20 percent each year since 2014.
It has more than doubled the number of sensitive claims therapists in that time to 1990, with nearly 500 coming onboard in the past three years. It has also made it easier and faster for suppliers to bring on new therapists.
Despite all this, ACC said it has not been able to close the gap between supply and demand.
"Media coverage, the #metoo movement, the Royal Commission of Inquiry in Abuse in Care investigation, societal trends, and awareness-raising prevention campaigns are changing attitudes towards sexual violence, which we believe is resulting in more survivors of sexual violence feeling they can seek help."
Rayner from Rape Crisis said while New Zealand has high rates of sexual and domestic abuse, attitudes have also changed.
"In some ways it's kind of positive to see that so many people are coming forward because that's the reality of the prevalence of this harm in our society. The problem is now we're trying to catch up."
But Logie said ACC has known about the problems for years and has simply failed to take responsibility.
College of Clinical Psychologists executive advisor Paul Skirrow said the increase in therapists touted by ACC might not tell the whole story.
The mental toll on clinicians from working with sexual assault survivors meant many only worked part time, he said.
"There's actually ACC guidance that says that you shouldn't spend more than 50 percent of your time doing this kind of work. So we're talking about a number there but that might be a very small number of appointments available that it might translate to."
ACC said all survivors were entitled to 14 hours of one-on-one therapy, and 40 hours of other support after an initial assessment while they were having their claim analysed for possible full, long-term cover.
Those in crisis could get support from the wider mental health system, it said.

Where to get help:
NZ Police
Victim Support 0800 842 846
Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00
Rape Prevention Education
Empowerment Trust
HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0
Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.
Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

© 2021 Radio New Zealand


03 June 2018

Government considers ACC for sexual harassment victims

A news report from RNZ
The government is looking into whether it can extend ACC cover to victims of sexual harassment. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice, Jan Logie, is having informal discussions with Minister for ACC Iain Lees Galloway about widening the provisions.
Under current law, only people who have been sexually violated have access to fully funded ACC support. Mental stress from sexual harassment and bullying such as inappropriate comments is not included.
But Jan Logie's office said she was looking into how victims of sexual harassment can have access to the same support as those of sexual abuse.
A spokesperson said it was an issue that had been raised on a number of occasions with Ms Logie by members of the public.
Co-leader of the Green Party, Marama Davidson, supports the idea, saying the country needed to take sexual harassment seriously.
"It's come from a background, that actually in the workplace ordinary sexual harassment has probably been seen as just normal and just the way things are and may be even celebrated but Jan Logie's work is important to get an understanding that it causes harm," said Marama Davidson.
© 2018 Radio New Zealand


08 October 2017

Counselling wait lists worsen as sexual violence claims spike

An article from The Manawatu Standard by Georgia Forrester.
Social services are  under strain as more people seek support for incidents of sexual violence.
Abuse and Rape Crisis Support Manawatu (ARCS) manager Ann Kent said the service was at capacity and had extended its hours in Palmerston North and Horowhenua, yet it still hadn't made a dent in its waiting list.
There was a two-to-three-month waiting list at ARCS for its counselling services.
The number of Manawatū people claiming ACC support for sexual violence cases had also spiked in the past year.
Figures released by ACC show there was a 24.2 per cent spike in claims made in the Manawatū District in the past financial year.
People who have experienced sexual abuse or sexual assault can lodge a sensitive claim with ACC and seek cover and entitlements for treatment, rehabilitation and compensation.
The number of sensitive claims made in Palmerston North increased by 16.3 per cent between 2015/16 and 2016/17.
Manawatū District claim costs reached $930,000 in the past year, with $2.5 million in costs paid to claims in Palmerston North.
Palmerston North was just below the national increase, which was up 16.5 per cent.
ACC redesigned its sensitive claim service in 2014 to improve accessibility,  but figures between 2012 and 2017 show a gradual increase in claims in the Manawatū area.
Kent said the ACC system was great,  but the current demand on counselling services was challenging and they were not able to keep up.
"I'm not aware of any agencies that are not experiencing an extra demand."
In an ideal world, counselling services would be offered to people there and then, but it was not realistic, she said.
During the nearly 10 years Kent had been a manager at the service, she had seen staff and client numbers jump.
Client numbers for counselling had remained steady in the past two years, but that was due to services already being at capacity, she said.
The service had expanded over time to keep up with demand, but there was no more funding available for further expansion.
Kent was unable to say whether there had been any increase in incidents of sexual violence.
"We believe that a lot of the increase is due to people being prepared to come forward to get support rather than keep silent about the abuse that they have experienced."
Police figures show reports of sexual assault and related offending tended to fluctuate monthly in the Central District.
There were 553 reports made in 2016 in the Central District, which includes Manawatū, Whanganui and Taranaki.
So far there had been 270 reports in the first six months of 2017.
Although there had not been a national campaign against sexual violence specifically, Kent said the 'It's Not OK' domestic violence campaign likely benefited the cause.
About 40 per cent of cases of violence between partners also involved sexual violence, she said.
Although there was a waiting list, Kent said social work services were still offered to people in the meantime. She encouraged people to come forward and use the services.
"What we don't want is for people to feel alone in this. We don't want them to feel completely isolated."
Green Party spokeswoman Jan Logie understood the pressure services were under, as some organisations had already raised concerns with her about heavy staff case loads.
Research showed only about one in 10 victims of sexual violence were reported.
"What we are seeing at the moment is still the tip of the iceberg."
However Logie said two-to-three-month waiting lists were too long.
A person may have waited 20 years before the trauma became too much and they finally sought help from a service. Those people needed help there and then.
Although preventative work was under way, there was still a lot of work to be done, she said.
A free national sexual violence helpline is scheduled to go live to the public on December 1, rolled out by the Ministry of Social Development.
© 2017 Fairfax New Zealand Ltd


24 August 2017

$1.4m funding boost for campus sexual violence prevention

An article from The Wireless by Susan Strongman
ACC will spend $1.4 million over the next four years to help prevent campus sexual violence, in a move that aims to help change the culture around sexual violence and consent in New Zealand.
The money will go towards implementing a three-year action plan for preventing and responding to sexual violence within tertiary communities.
The action plan was announced today by New Zealand Union of Students Associations (NZUSA) director Alistair Shaw.
It includes reviews of tertiary education institutions’ policies on sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention; enhancing reporting systems and support for students; and training and education programmes for residential assistants, staff, and students.
ACC’s violence injury prevention portfolio manager Mike McCarthy said 22 percent of ACC’s sensitive claims in the 2016/17 financial year were from those aged 18-24. A sensitive claim is for mental or physical injuries such as those caused by sexually violent acts. Last year ACC paid out $103 million on treatment and entitlements on sensitive claims, McCarthy said.
“Our goal is to support young adults so they can experience safe, healthy and respectful relationships.
“We see this partnership as a great opportunity for ACC to work with NZUSA and tertiary institutions. Sexual violence and consent is a wider issue for New Zealand. Changing the culture around it is challenging for all of us.”
The announcement was made at today’s launch of the In Our Own Words report, which looks at at the experiences of tertiary students with sexual violence, education, harassment, institutional support services and reporting pathways, ableism, racism and LGBTQIA+ discrimination.
The report was penned by Thursdays in Black National Coordinator Izzy O’Neill and findings were based on responses received by more than 1400 students.
According to the report, more than 80 per cent of those who answered the question said that they thought sexual violence in student communities was a problem. 53 percent of respondents said they had experienced some form of sexual assault themselves and 49 percent of respondents suspected that a friend had been sexually assaulted.
These numbers are strikingly similar to the results of a survey of psychology students at the University of Auckland in 1991 by Nicola Gavey, which found 52 percent of women had experienced some form of sexual victimisation.
“In Our Own Words confirms that sexual violence does occur in tertiary and student communities. Now, something must be done about it,” O’Neill said.
Read the full report here.
© 2017 Radio New Zealand


16 August 2017

Months-long delays for rape victims' ACC support

A news report from Radio New Zealand by Sarah Robson

People who have been raped or sexually assaulted are sometimes having to wait months to access ACC-funded specialist support services.
Some counsellors and therapists in Auckland have lengthy waiting lists for appointments and others are not taking any new patients.
One woman, Jennifer*, was trying to find a new counsellor. She had gone through the process of reporting a historical rape and needed support. She started contacting people on ACC's list in the Auckland area.
"I found that there was roughly a two-month wait list, minimum, to see most counsellors. I mass-emailed many on the ACC list and many said that they were not taking on any new clients," she said.
"I found this quite distressing."
Through sheer luck and persistence, Jennifer has been able to find a new counsellor.
She said she was not impressed that she had been repeatedly told she would have to wait to get the help she needed.
"People who have been sexually assaulted often become suicidal or have other mental health issues. I found that a 60-day wait or longer to get funded counselling was very poor and not all survivors have the means to pay for a private counsellor."
HELP is an organisation that provides specialist support services to victims of sexual abuse and assault in Auckland. Executive director Kathryn McPhillips said, like other providers, it was facing delays for people trying to access its counselling or therapy services.
"That delay can be anywhere from a few weeks, up to six months, maybe even eight months at times," she said.
"Our crisis service provides support during that time, so people can ring in or they can have acute sessions with us if they need to, but yes, it can be months that people are waiting."
Ms McPhillips said victims were often reluctant to seek help until their situation became desperate.
"It's something people do usually when they've hit the wall, so when they feel like they're in crisis or they can't hold on anymore, or they really need this thing solved in their life, or the offender is coming out of prison. There's all sorts of things that trigger people to that point of needing help."
Part of the problem was changes made by ACC in November 2014, which reduced and removed barriers for people to access support after experiencing sexual violence, Ms McPhillips said. That led to an influx of people seeking help - without the necessary workforce there to cope.
"I think that people who were not able to access counselling before because it required some additional payment, once it was free then a whole lot of people were like, 'yes, I need some help, please help me now'.
"To be honest, services haven't been able to keep up with that demand."
Ms McPhillips said they needed more qualified staff, but they lacked the funding to do any specialist training themselves. However, the government had committed more resources to the sector which should help longer-term, she said.
Andrea Black from Rape Crisis said it was important that specialist support services for survivors of sexual assault and violence were adequately resourced.
"If you don't have enough people on the ground to provide that service, or enough resources to do that, it's really distressing.
"It's really upsetting for workers, for volunteers, for our skilled workers, but even more so for families who may have to wait for days or weeks to access a specialist support person," she said.
In a statement, ACC said it was aware of delays for counselling services in areas like Auckland, Dunedin and Rotorua, and was looking into why demand for services was greater than the number of providers. It said it was encouraging providers to employ more staff, and was working with professional organisations and tertiary institutions to boost the workforce.
ACC said its goal was to have no significant waiting period to accessing counselling and therapy services.
* Name has been changed


© Radio New Zealand 2017