Rape and sexual assault victims in Auckland may lose access to the city's only 24-hour helpline due to a funding shortfall.© 2012 Fairfax NZ News
The HELP Foundation will be forced to lay off specialist staff and cut services after the Government refused it $200,000 to keep the line going, spokeswoman Aimee Stockenstroom said. News of the shortfall came despite a commitment from the Government to work closely with HELP to establish a sustainable telephone service for the future in December 2011.
"For victims of sexual assault and rape, the potential to suffer devastating mental health consequences is high and early intervention must be seen as a survivor's right," Stockenstroom said.
HELP takes about 12,000 calls a year from victims of sexual assault and rape, or around 250 calls a week. Stockenstroom said one in five women were sexually assaulted or raped in their lifetime.
"It is not ethical, and shocking for us to think in the middle of the night when the terror can be the most overwhelming, there will no longer be someone there at the end of the phone."
Green MP Jan Logie said it was appalling it had only taken the Government a year to renege on its commitment to the helpline. Logie said while sexual violence reporting rates were increasing, the Government was not reflecting that in its funding, despite widespread acknowledgement that the services were vital.
"In 2009, the Taskforce for Action for Sexual Abuse identified the urgent need to increase funding to support services," she said.
"This has not happened and now even the current meagre resources are being reduced."
Previously, the help line was funded by ACC, however that was axed in May 2009. Interim funding was provided until last year, when a cross-agency group comprising the Ministries of Justice, Social Development, Health and ACC was set up to discuss a long-term solution.
Stockenstroom said HELP wanted to continue to work with the Government but simply could not continue without enough money.
More information can be found on www.helpauckland.org.nz.
The foundation is also taking donations at any branch of ASB bank. A donations account will run from 12 October 2012 through to 26 October 2012. The account number is ASB: 12 3205 0175 043 00.