The global #MeToo campaign has seen a surge in Kiwi women contacting sexual abuse helplines to report historic incidents.

Agencies say the movement has heightened awareness in victims that their experiences were sexual harassment or abuse, and provided a safer environment for them to come forward, which has given them strength to do so.

But increased calls to crisis lines and referrals to help agencies has also highlighted a lack of sexual violence counsellors.

Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation executive director Kathryn McPhillips said: "We have a wait list for counselling of about 90 people, we've never had that before. That's gone up to that level from about September-October last year."

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#MeToo spread as a hashtag on social media to help demonstrate widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

#Me Too was "creating enough momentum … across a wide number of people, that it's a different environment now to disclose".

"One of the main things we find about disclosures of sexual harassment or violence is that people don't disclose until the environment seems to be safe to disclose.

"Because historically people have been shamed, derided, it's been minimised.

"So the current environment where people are being listened to, heard, and taken seriously, I think that's probably the main factor in the increase in disclosures."

HELP, which has been operating for 35 years, has about 30 staff including counsellors and therapists, and covers the centre and north of Auckland.

It handles about 10,000 calls a year, and deals with people aged from 3 to their 80s. Numbers were constantly increasing.

There was a shortage of sexual violence counsellors, McPhillips said.

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Increased funding by ACC of counselling and therapy for people who had experienced sexual violence had resulted in a significant rise in numbers seeking help from agencies, but this had not been matched by a lift in the number of counselling staff, she said.

Agencies had been warning for several years, "there's going to be a big bubble of service need for some time as lots of historical disclosures come to the fore".

Counselling Services Centre agency manager Ann Weaver said there had been an increase "particularly in our crisis line" since #MeToo.

Weaver said #MeToo was "a wonderful piece of awareness-raising that's enabled people to hear that it's okay to speak out, and it's important to speak out, and it's important to seek help. And there is help out there".

Counselling Services Centre provides specialist sexual violence crisis and counselling services for people in the Counties Manukau/South Auckland district. It has been operating for about 30 years.

Weaver said there was a need for more sexual violence counsellors and training.

"It's something we all struggle with, to ensure that we have enough staff to cover the need. But it's also a funding issue."

National Rape Crisis spokeswoman Andrea Black said there had been a definite increase in referrals since #MeToo, many of them for younger people.

"The #MeToo online campaign has helped lots of younger people access information privately [about issues] that they may not speak in person to anyone about or go to services for. And … then they seek help," Black said.

National Rape Crisis is a collective of nine groups across New Zealand, mostly in rural communities – in the Bay of Islands, Whangarei, Kaipara, Hamilton, Tauranga, Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa, Westport and Dunedin. It has been operating since the 1970s.

Black also said there was a shortage of sexual violence counsellors. She was hoping for extra government funding.

"Most of our services are partially funded still, not fully funded, so we can't keep up with the referrals as they come through."

Asked what the Government was going to do about increasing the number of sexual violence counsellors​ and aligned counselling and therapy staff, ACC Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said: "I have been advised that ACC has been liaising with tertiary institutions to inform them about opportunities for graduates.

"In 2018 the [ACC's] psychology adviser team will be formally making contact with all the universities offering counselling, psychotherapy and psychology post-graduate programmes to inform them about opportunities for students and graduates.

"I've also been advised that there are plans for a variation to the ISSC (integrated service for sensitive claims) contract to take effect in the middle of 2018 which will allow advisers to use psychology interns under close supervision to provide the service. We hope that creating this opportunity to gain experience will increase the number of graduates who will choose to work with survivors of sexual violence."

Jan Logie, Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues), said: "I have had a number of meetings with ministerial colleagues in recent weeks that indicate a high level of commitment to action on family violence and sexual violence.

"As with all political issues, it is helpful to governments when there is evidence of public support for changes. So, I encourage people to remain vocal and to remain in dialogue with us …

"As Under-Secretary, I'll be working to deliver as much as I can within my delegated responsibilities," the MP said.

That included "overseeing operational work to implement the Family and Whānau Violence Legislation Bill, including new court processes are designed with the service user (victims, perpetrators, and children) in mind".
 

Where to get help:

• Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation – 09 623 1700
• Counselling Services Centre - 09 277 9324
• National Rape Crisis - 0800 883 300