Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Sexual-violence inquiry reveals gaps in services and funding shortfall

Intersex Trust Aotearoa director Mani Mitchell. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Intersex Trust Aotearoa director Mani Mitchell. Photo / Mark Mitchell

John was first referred to sexual violence services aged 12. His mother was schizophrenic and his father, a gang member with a violent history, was in prison.

After he began acting out violently and sexually at school, Child, Youth and Family (CYF) shuffled him through foster homes in his rural neighbourhood.

He failed to improve, and was moved to a specialist home in a nearby city, where he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism.

John's life turned around when he was transferred to a state-funded residential treatment programme.

"He did exceptionally well," said Lesley Ayland, chief executive of the Harmful Sexual Behaviour Sector.

"He made a huge improvement in his learning, his behaviour settled, he returned to the group home and continued to do well. He was on track to attend university."

But when John turned 17, CYF closed its case because he had become an adult. There was no equivalent support for adults.

He returned home to his mother, who was refusing medication. His behaviour deteriorated and he reoffended.

John's story was one of several complex and tragic cases told to a major inquiry into sexual violence services in New Zealand, which resumes hearings in Wellington tomorrow. Doctors, victims, psychologists, lobby groups and officials warned Parliament's social services committee last week that there were a number of gaps in the current system.

They expressed concern about long waits for services, uncertainty about continued funding, total absence of funding for some sectors, and the struggle to help Maori, rural, transgender or intersex clients.

National crime statistics released last week revealed a 10 per cent increase in sexual assaults between 2012 and 2013. The trend could reflect increased reporting of abuse, not a rise in the rate of assaults.

Wellington Rape Crisis agency manager Eleanor Butterworth said more victims were seeking help because the stigma around sexual violence was increasingly being broken down. She said this change would require greater resourcing for sexual violence services.

"That means long-term plans, not pilots, it means multi-year funding contracts, it means services directed at hard-to-reach and marginalised communities and it means getting your head around the fact that one in four women and one in eight men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and that many of those people will want to access specialist services at some point in their lives."

The most common complaint to the inquiry was the absence of secure, long-term funding for frontline services. Funding was usually distributed in one- or two-year contracts, which gave providers little certainty for treating clients who required years of rehabilitation.

Only $77,000 of Wellington Rape Crisis' $300,000 to $330,000 budget was guaranteed, non-contestable funding. It was temporarily forced to reduce its service from five to four days a week last year because of a lack of funding - a shortfall which prompted Green MP Jan Logie to seek the inquiry.

At present, the rape crisis agency is running on a $100,000 deficit and will cut services again if it cannot secure more funding.

MPs also heard about geographical gaps in the system. Specialist services are mostly limited to the main cities and some centres have no services at all. Some rural clients have to travel long distances for treatment.

ACC is doubling its budget for sensitive claims (sexual abuse or rape cases) at the end of this year. But the Government still requires specialist support to meet the complex needs of rape victims or their perpetrators.

Intersex Trust Aotearoa executive director Mani Mitchell said that despite the high proportion of abuse among transgender or intersex people, there was no specialised service for these groups.

Submitters also told the inquiry that funding was skewed towards victims and the care and protection of children.

Cuts by the Ministry of Social Development in tight fiscal times meant adult sex offenders who abused other adults could not get treatment unless they were in the criminal justice system.

This was significant because sexual offending was largely a hidden crime - just one in 100 offenders went to prison. Many people knew their abusers and did not want to charge them. But unless they were charged, their recovery was not state-subsidised.

Ms Ayland said many abusers voluntarily sought treatment if it was available.

MPs heard that CYF had some blind spots. In one case, six boys had seriously assaulted another boy at a secondary school. But CYF did not intervene if a young person was a threat to his or her peers.

When the hearings are completed, the select committee will make recommendations to Government for improvements to the system.

Paediatric Society head Dawn Elder said she hoped any reforms would bring care for sexual abuse victims into line with the rest of New Zealand's health system.

"It seems odd to me that you can have renal failure and you get dialysis, you can have cancer and you get paid for your cancer treatment. [But] you can have a really crappy childhood and have severe mental problems and some sexual offending problems and you struggle to get services. I don't understand it."

- NZ Herald

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