Several cases of babies being sexually abused and contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have come to the attention of a Tauranga-based support service.
Last year 153 children aged 15 and under were referred to Bay of Plenty Sexual Assault Support Service for sexual abuse in the Bay. Of those, 69 were aged 8 or under.
Bay of Plenty Sexual Assault Support Service general manager Kylie McKee told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend sexual abuse was getting worse in the Bay and the types of crimes were "incredibly violent". The service had seen multiple cases of babies with STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia from sexual assault in the past 12 months.
"It's tough stuff. It's the kind of stuff that makes you sick," she said. "This is something that needs to be talked about. Anecdotally, only about 7 to 9 per cent of sexual crimes are reported. We're seeing 350 people a year. What does that say about what's out there?" It was disturbing how many of the service's clients were children - about 67 per cent of referrals.
About half of clients were Pakeha and half Maori. An increasing number of males were also reporting sexual crimes.
"Sexual assault is one of those things that spans cultures and demographics."
Only a "tiny" number - in the single digits - of the people referred to the support service ended up going through the court system. "Going through the abuse, then having to be identified as a person who has been through all of that is hard, especially in a small town when people can point you out on the street as the person involved with that case."
When the service first opened it was intended to provide medical assessment and treatment for sexual assault victims, including forensic testing.
Eighteen months ago the services were expanded to include counselling and support.
"Everyone who works here has a bit of a passion for helping someone in need. We just want to fix the world and we can't, so we will fix everyone who comes in to the best of our ability."
Most of the centre's clients come from referrals from police or Child Youth and Family, although Ms McKee said it was getting an increasing number of self-referrals.
"Word has got out there that our service is confidential. They don't have to go to police. We will do a forensic report and hold it for six months."
Police crime statistics for the Western Bay, released last week, showed 74 sexual assaults and related offences were recorded in 2013 compared to 163 last year - an increase of more than 120 per cent.
Ms McKee believed reporting of sexual crimes had increased in recent years, accounting for some of the increased number of recorded offences, but she believed the number of sexual crimes committed was also on the rise.
When asked to comment on the dramatic increase in both sets of statistics and why police figures differed so much from the sexual assault service's figures, Western Bay police acting area commander Inspector Karl Wright-St Clair said in a written statement there were several reasons, and it was pleasing to see victims had the trust and confidence in both agencies to report sexual assaults.
"Assaults of any nature, but particularly sexual assaults, are a priority for police here in Western Bay, and I encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault to report the incident."
A Child, Youth and Family spokesman said questions from the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend would be "more appropriately directed at the police, who prosecute sexual assault crimes".
"CYF works with the victims of sexual assault, alongside other agencies, to ensure appropriate support and protection is given to young victims and their families."