Sexual abuse survivors to challenge ACC changes

By Elizabeth Binning

A sexual abuse survivor holds one of the T-shirts to be given to ACC Minister Nick Smith. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A sexual abuse survivor holds one of the T-shirts to be given to ACC Minister Nick Smith. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A group of sexual abuse survivors plan to send Accident Compensation Minister Nick Smith a strong message this week through a silent protest over changes to subsidised counselling which they say are putting lives at risk.

One of the women, who was subjected to years of abuse by her then boyfriend, said counselling had been a lifeline, allowing her to start living her life again.

But with that lifeline now under threat following changes to ACC funding for sexual abuse victims, the woman is struggling and slipping back into a depression it had taken years to break out of.

"I can't go to see my counsellor at the moment because I can't afford to pay," said the young woman, who has been told she will have to wait until her case is reviewed before ACC decides whether she is entitled to any more counselling.

"I really do need to see her to ground myself and get some perspective, but it hasn't happened for three weeks ...

"Now it's too much - I'm crumbling."

The woman, a member of a group called Courageous Women, is one of dozens who will this week make their views and struggles known in a silent protest during Rape Awareness Week.

The members have all signed and written messages on T-shirts which will be taken to Wellington and given to Dr Smith by anti-rape advocate Louise Nicholas. Some of the women outline in their messages what counselling means to them and how the changes will affect them.

The new rules stipulate ACC-subsidised counselling is only for victims with a diagnosed mental condition caused by sexual abuse, and is generally for 16 weeks, subject to further review.

Another victim joining the silent protest is the Pukekohe woman who was subjected to a 4-hour sex attack when Roger Kahui invaded her home.

She said counselling had helped her through her darkest times, especially the court trial in which she not only had to be in the same room as her attacker again, but relive everything he had done to her.

She said that at times she was so depressed she had considered driving her car into the median barrier to end it all, but counselling had helped her get through the process.

She said it was unfair the new system would not make things so easy for future victims.

"What bugs me more than anything is these guys who did this are in prison getting 'rehabilitation'. Here we are having to beg to get counselling. It's so unfair."

The woman said sexual abuse victims were not like others who were able to protest in public. Many struggled even to get out of their homes following their ordeals. A silent protest was, however, one way of getting their message across.

Courageous Women facilitator Tania Blomfield said her role had significantly changed since the impact of the ACC changes started filtering down.

"I now spend a lot of time each month providing crisis support to group members who are not coping, who are self-harming or who are suicidal. This sort of crisis situation was previously dealt with by their counsellors."

The Herald revealed last week how a South Auckland mother died four days after her claim for ACC-funded counselling was rejected on the grounds that she had not suffered "a significant mental injury".

Dr Smith announced at the time that there would be a review of the new rules.

- NZ Herald

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