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

28 October 2016

Dealing with childhood sexual abuse as a pensioner

An article from the Timaru Herald by Esther Ashby-Coventry
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.
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."
© 2017 Fairfax New Zealand Limited


27 September 2016

Making a difference in sexual violence prevention

A press release by ACC
A new web based tool has been developed to evaluate sexual violence prevention practice. Developed by ACC, the Making a Difference: Sexual Violence Primary Prevention Toolkit will enable providers of sexual violence prevention activities to measure increases in knowledge, shifts in attitudes and changes in behaviour.
ACC’s Injury Prevention Portfolio Manager – Violence, Mike McCarthy, says the new tool will help agencies focus on primary prevention which is evidence-based, promotes behaviour change and guides funding decisions towards best practise activities.
“Current evaluation of sexual violence prevention is inconsistent and limited to measuring how much participants enjoyed a programme rather than what they got out of it and whether it changed their attitudes and behaviour.”
The development of the Toolkit aligns with ACC’s role as coordinator of the Government‘s response to sexual violence primary prevention activity. It is also an integral part of ACC’s suite of injury prevention initiatives to reduce the incidence of injury and, in this case, harm from sexual violence.
“Our goal is to support children, aged 25 and under, to experience safe, healthy and respectful relationships. As part of our violence prevention initiatives, we want to improve the ability to evaluate sexual violence prevention activities in New Zealand.”
Mr McCarthy says, “If we can stop sexual violence happening in the first place, we won’t need to deal with the consequences of the serious harm sexual violence causes.”
Sexual violence is one of the most costly crimes to individuals and society, with Treasury estimating it costs the New Zealand economy $1.2 billion each year. In the 2015/16 financial year ACC paid over $83 million on over 20,000 sensitive claims, an increase of 31 percent on the previous year. The average cost of sensitive claims increased by 17 percent between 2015 and 2016.
The Toolkit will assist in ensuring sexual violence prevention activity is focused on behaviour change and that funding across government agencies, including ACC, can be targeted towards effective programmes.
The Toolkit will ensure greater consistency in the evaluation of projects across government and community agencies and provide invaluable insights into what works in sexual violence prevention, says Mike McCarthy.

18 September 2016

Sex abuse victim speaks out

An article from the Wairarapa Times-Age by Geoff Vause
A victim of convicted sex offender Raymond Buchanan, formerly of Masterton, has spoken out for the first time.
The man, now in his thirties and living in Australia, said he would only talk to the Wairarapa Times Age about the impact child rapist Buchanan had on his life, and his shocking neglect by various government agencies in New Zealand. A jury delivered a guilty verdict on all charges for the brutal abuse of two boys at Masterton from 1980 through to 1991 and in February Buchanan appeared before Judge Kit Toogood in Rotorua High Court and was jailed for 12 years.
The man and his brother, also a victim, were complimented by Judge Toogood for the “restrained and careful way” they gave evidence “without exaggeration”. The judge’s thanks was all they got.
Buchanan was ordered to pay $70,000 in reparation to each victim but has paid nothing so far as trustees control his funds. The victim now speaking out said he has somehow managed to remain relatively on track, “not messed up on drugs, staying out of jail” and overcoming the constant thoughts of taking his own life.
“I don’t have any self-confidence at all, I feel embarrassed and ashamed of what has happened,” he said.
He cannot be named, but said the trust controlling Buchanan’s money had refused to negotiate on coughing up a single dollar despite the judge’s order. He said he had been failed at the time not only by his mother but by school authorities and every government agency which could have helped.
His treatment by ACC and other agencies since the offending came to light had been more of the same.
“If somebody hurts themselves at work they go to ACC and get any assistance they need because they can’t work,” he said.
“Even Buchanan will get rehabilitation. He’ll get everything he needs.
“I pay for my own counselling at $187 each visit and I have not had any help. I haven’t been able to afford the last couple of visits and I feel completely ripped off.
“It feels like the criminal gets rehab and the victim gets life just trying to survive each day”.
The counselling was essential to having some semblance of a life. He said the counsellor was stunned he was still alive. His fear of touch, even a cuddle, made it almost impossible to have a relationship.
His cynical treatment at the hands of government agencies in this country was also disturbing.
“Being the main witness they paid for my flights back to New Zealand and a hotel room, but that was it.
“I was left to fund everything else including supporting myself while not working. I even had to refinance my bike to pay for living expenses in Australia.
“ACC said I had to come back to New Zealand and live for at least eight months before they will even look at giving me any help.
“New Zealand is the last place I want to be. I have no good feelings there. I left there so I didn’t do something that would have ended up with me in jail.
“I struggle every day to find some purpose. I’m a hard worker, but I struggle with the mood swings, so it’s hard to keep jobs.
“I just have to get away on my own. I’ve lived in the desert just with a swag for months at a time. I’ve had no help at all.”
When he tried to contact the agencies in New Zealand that could help, he was passed around from one to the other, or they didn’t get back to him.
“They get me to repeat my story, over and over again. It’s cost me heaps in calls, all for nothing. The system is just totally screwed,” he said.
“It’s not about the money. The whole system is backward.
“I’m the victim, left to fend for myself.”

Copyright 2016 Wairarapa Times Age

30 May 2016

Protesters demand changes to way sexual attack survivors dealt with by ACC

An article from the New Zealand Herald
A "small but committed" group of protesters gathered outside ACC's Auckland office this afternoon calling for sexual attack survivors to qualify for ongoing taxpayer-funded counselling without a mental health illness diagnosis. Green Party MP Jan Logie led the demonstration with support from victim advocate, Louise Nicholas.
Up to 14 hours of one-on-one therapy is currently available when someone lodges a sensitive claim with ACC, along with up to 10 hours of social work support. Up to 20 hours of whanau support is also available immediately.
After these are used, ACC decides whether to approve cover for further support, should the person need it. That included victims needing to be diagnosed with a mental health injury relating to the abuse.
"Some survivors feel having to have a diagnosis puts judgment on them," Ms Logie said. "It takes them back to the the feeling that there's something wrong with them; that they're at fault.
"In other cases, survivors who need support are turned down because they don't have a diagnosis, or some don't apply for support because they think they'll be turned down."
She said a small but committed group of about 20 protesters gathered outside ACC's Auckland office at 12pm today.
"What we're asking for is incredibly simple. A counsellor can assess a survivor and whether they need help without them needing a mental health diagnosis."
The Green Party has also begun a petition which will be presented to ACC Minister Nikki Kaye.
Ms Kaye has said she believes the system is supportive of survivors but she will meet with providers to discuss possible changes to the scheme. That would include looking at different ways to assess mental harm to victims.
Ms Kaye said a "mental injury diagnosis" could be provided by any ACC registered and appropriately qualified assessor, which in many cases is the client's counsellor.
Changes were made in 2009 to the way support was accessed through ACC by sexual violence survivors, bringing in the requirement for a mental injury diagnosis in order to access help. After a 2010 review of the scheme and consultation with those working in the sector, further changes were made so survivors could have immediate access to support.
© 2016 NZME Publishing Ltd