What has really led to the Government’s changing stance on funding for sexual violence services?© 1996-2015 The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand
People have been congratulating me on this news yesterday and I have to admit working with the sector through this process has given meaning to my time in Parliament and I am proud of the work we have done on this. I am a bit embarrassed by the congratulations in the context of the thousands of submissions and years and years of work by incredible advocates which really got the result.
While I’ll need to see the dollars in the budget, and hear that the Government is working closely with the specialist providers, especially Nga Kaitiaki Mauri, to design the new model before I relax, I do want to reflect on the journey to this point.
The 70s and 80s saw women coming together to voluntarily support women who had experienced sexual violence. The Government provided some funding from the mid 80s. There was a period of new general services, the Pacific Island Women’s Project, and kaupapa Maori services being set up to respond to the growing need. These groups were advocating for the prevention of sexual violence – law reform and social change as well as supporting victim/survivors. It wasn’t until the mid 90s that we had the first ethnic women’s organisation, Shakti and in the late 90s the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust set up. There are still obvious gaps.
ACC alongside MSD were the major funders for sexual violence support services. The services were always under-valued and certainly not recognised for the amazing life-saving and at times world leading responses to sexual violence that they were and are. Sexual violence has been one of those very difficult topics to talk about in any context so that always made the services a bit of an easy target for funding cuts.
Despite Maori women being more likely to experience sexual violence in New Zealand and kaupapa Maori approaches being far more successful we have lost almost all of our specialist kaupapa Maori sexual violence services. There was a time when there were over twenty services but now there are fewer than five.
The Taskforce for Action was initiated by Labour in the wake of public horror about Louise Nicholas’s experiences. Louise did not have access to the right help, from our justice system or social services, when she needed it and that is one of the reasons she has been so actively advocating for increased funding for years.
The Taskforce for Action came out in 2009 calling for a national prevention plan and proper resourcing of the sexual violence sectors, basically all the same things that the select committee has recommended again 6 years later.
Maori and non-Maori specialists gave hundreds of hours of their time, voluntarily, in the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence. They spent hours and hours strategizing and organising and lobbying to try and ensure that victim/survivors had access to the services they needed. If this had been implemented there would have been no need for the select committee inquiry.
But even while the National party Minister for Justice called the Taskforce for Action the best road map the country had ever had for addressing sexual violence, the Government was in the process of gutting ACC support for victim/survivors. The Government told ACC that they had to make savings. In 2009 they saved $3.2billion dollars by going after, amongst other things, the “low hanging fruit” of sensitive claims. These changes resulted in a 36% decline the number of claims being lodged and even more shockingly the number of accepted claims going from 60% to 3.6% in just two years. Specialist agencies stopped using ACC because they thought it was unsafe for survivors and the number of ACC counsellors halved. During the inquiry into sexual violence funding we heard from a man whose partner had killed herself because she couldn’t get the support she needed over this time.
Many therapists and counsellors and volunteers just kept going, under increasing strain themselves, because they knew that people were depending on them. This was a truly awful time in New Zealand’s history.
Public concern over these changes forced Minister Nick Smith to initiate a review in 2010.The Disley report in 2010 made fourteen recommendations to fix the mess. Considerable effort has been made since then by ACC, the community and others to try and restore ACC. In the select committee report much has been made of the improvements to ACC. A new model is in place and it is much better but we are still not there yet.
Ahead of the budget and future work, I just want to celebrate the bloody minded tenacity of survivors and advocates who have kept going through this very dismal time. I genuinely and wholeheartedly hope the Government doesn’t let us all down again.