ACC reinstates help for victims of sex abuse

By Martin Johnston

Victims of sexual abuse will more easily be able to obtain the help of specialised counsellors from Monday, following a partial backdown by ACC.

In a move branded "inhumane" by a rape prevention group, ACC last October cut back counselling for victims of rape and other sexual abuse "sensitive claims".

Funding became restricted to only those with a diagnosed mental injury resulting from sexual abuse or assault.

But yesterday, ACC acknowledged that this move, although in line with its legislation, had "exposed gaps" in its services, and it announced it would provide extra support.

From Monday, people with a new sensitive claim and those whose claim is awaiting a decision will be able to have up to 16 hours with a counsellor funded by ACC.

"ACC has listened to concerns expressed by several groups that more support is needed," said the corporation's general manager of claims management, Denise Cosgrove.

Rape Prevention Education director Dr Kim McGregor said more than 16 hours was needed in many cases, but it was an "extremely welcome" move.

The figure of 16 hours had arisen in relation to adults who had experienced one sexual assault, she said.

"So 16 hours would be inappropriate, for example, for child sexual abuse and for most survivors of sexual violence who had experienced more than one sexual assault."

Dr McGregor said last year's cutback had affected survivors of sexual violence, and counsellors. Some survivors would have harmed themselves or become suicidal.

Others, who had taken years or decades to summon the courage to disclose that they had been sexually abused, only to find they couldn't obtain ACC counselling, might have just closed down and put up with whatever they were dealing with for another 10 years.

There had been a huge increase in demand for free and low-cost counselling services such as telephone and school-based counselling after last year's changes, Dr McGregor said.

This was because of the sudden shortage of specialised sexual abuse counsellors caused by ACC's cutback. Many would have moved on to other counselling work, such as in the Family Court or for drug treatment services.

ACC said it was expected that counselling for up to 16 hours would be sufficient for many people and they would not subsequently need ACC cover.

The 16 hours would also be used to gather information on signs of possible mental injury resulting from sexual abuse, for use in deciding whether to accept a claim.

ACC is still deciding what support will be available for those who suffer a relapse, and those whose claims have previously been declined, and arrangements for children.

Dr Barbara Disley, chairwoman of a clinical review panel appointed by ACC Minister Nick Smith, said members had expressed their concerns to him that the number of claims by sexual assault victims had halved and many claimants were declined cover or faced delays in obtaining support.

She said the change announced yesterday "begins to address the panel's concerns".

- NZ Herald

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