Sexual abuse helpline needs help

By Simon Collins

24-hour counselling service faces yet another pre-Christmas funding crisis.

Maxine Brayshaw is worried the Helpline will be forced to stop working outside of business hours from the end of this year. Photo / Natalie Slade
Maxine Brayshaw is worried the Helpline will be forced to stop working outside of business hours from the end of this year. Photo / Natalie Slade

"You can call us any time," Maxine Brayshaw told a woman who rang Auckland's sexual abuse helpline at the weekend, giving the woman the assurance she gives to all crisis callers. Then she had to correct herself.

"She said, 'Can we call you 24/7? I thought you were losing funding,"' Ms Brayshaw said.

"I said, 'You can talk to us at the moment."'

The 24-hour helpline run by the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Foundation faces yet another pre-Christmas funding crisis, a year after a similar desperate campaign targeting Prime Minister John Key's Facebook site led to a $150,000 interim bailout by the Health and Social Development Ministries which kept the line operating until June.

A Health Ministry spokesman said at the time that a long-term way to fund "a sustainable service" would be worked out during those six months.

The two ministries, plus Police and the Accident Compensation Corporation, put together another interim funding package in June. But that runs out next month and Ms Brayshaw and the service's other after-hours counsellors do not know what will happen then.

"It's really unsettling, and it's really hard to divorce yourself from that when you are doing the work."

"I feel really strongly about the clients and the people that we support with the phone line, and how it leaves them without support if it stops. Just talking about it makes me feel upset."

Ms Brayshaw is part of a team of part-time counsellors who answer calls to the helpline from home after hours.

"Some nights can be really busy. Other nights you might get one or two calls," she said.

The police call when a sexual assault occurs to ask for someone to go out for face-to-face counselling.

Ms Brayshaw does two night shifts a week on that work, which is not affected by the latest funding crisis.

But the rest of the helpline work, which has depended on repeated "interim" funding, is for people who have been abused in the past - in the past few days or perhaps decades ago - who need help because something has retriggered their trauma.

"Maybe they've woken up in the middle of the night, something has disturbed them, it triggers something, and they ring you up for support and help. That's the majority of the calls in the early hours," Ms Brayshaw said. "We get calls from parents who are worried about their children, they have said something and they are not sure what that means, so they are ringing up to get some advice on what they can do."

The agency's development manager, Harriet Sewell, said officials in a multi-agency group put a long-term funding proposal to Social Development Minister Paula Bennett about the time of Ms Bennett's white paper on child abuse in mid-October.

"She was going to have a meeting with the policy people around the time of the white paper, but the meeting was postponed and never happened," Ms Sewell said. "It stalled, it went nowhere."

Ms Bennett said last night: "Negotiations are under way".

Get help

Sexual abuse helpline:
09 623 1700

- NZ Herald

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