An unknown number of older people have taken the crimes committed against them as children to the grave, but more are now reaching out for help.© 2017 Fairfax New Zealand Limited
Between 2011 and 2016 the number of women and men in New Zealand over 65 lodging sensitive claims for sexual abuse has increased.
Accident Compensation Commission figures show 81 women and 28 men aged 65 years and over lodged a sensitive claim (sexual abuse) between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016 - an increase from figures in 2011/2012 in which 34 women and fewer than 10 men lodge sensitive claims.
South Canterbury counsellor Marion Williams said the increase could probably be attributed to more openness around the issue, but she would like to see more.
"Talking about it gets power over those who abuse and spreads more knowledge," Williams said.
Williams has counselled people with sensitive issues for 17 years and said many people 65 or older did not know how to access help, so the ACC figures were unlikely to represent the reality.
"I have heard some horrific stories from men who have suffered sexual abuse as a child who are in their 60s, 70s and 80s."
Many men tended to try and blot it out through sport, fighting, alcohol and drug use whereas women were often passive and focussed on caring for others to forget about themselves, she said.
"Their fear emotions may stay as a certain memory until they are dealt with."
Nightmares, grief and emotional pain could cause flashbacks of the trauma.
"It's like a tumour ... it's never too late to get help."
Up until the 1990s, when abuse started to be talked about, children who had been abused were often not believed or not listened to.
"The person may have tried to tell someone years ago and got into more problems. It was the culture of the times."
A number of the abused Williams has worked with had never been asked their stories and were treated for their symptoms such as depression or anxiety.
"They may suffer from shame, guilt and fear of speaking out."
The most important aspect of counselling was listening and acknowledging what had happened.
"People want to know they are heard and believed. The greatest healer is acknowledging the dreadful event and as not their fault."
Williams said people did not need a referral from their GP to get counselling for childhood sexual abuse.
"The counsellor will take you through the ACC process."
Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Simon Templeton said although ACC did fund a number of claims, it was hard for older people to get input from a public health psychologist as the area was underfunded and under-resourced.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy could help some people accept what had happened and help them move on without having to relive what they had been through, he said. But that was not in the best interests of all sexual abuse survivors.
"They could talk it over [where to get help] with their GP and look at options if it [abuse] was still affecting their lives. It's not a small issue."
South Canterbury Senior Citizens community support co-ordinator Robyn Baldwin said no-one had talked to her about such a "delicate matter" during her work.
"So many [senior citizens] have never talked about it and don't. A lot of their abusers are not around now."