By of Rachel Thomas of RNZ
Louise Nicholas says the Government may be scrapping her role supporting victims of sexual violence, but it won't stop her from doing the work.
Nicholas, herself a rape survivor, told RNZ that she found out over a Zoom call during level 4 lockdown in April that the Ministry for Social Development would not renew her contract as a national advocate for survivors of sexual violence.
Louise has worked for 12 years with victims of abuse - many of them children.
She described the call as a major letdown.
"I could absolutely say I felt like the war had been lost. A war that I've fought for so long ... I always thought I'd lost that [her own court] battle and I'm not going to lose this one either."
Now, she sees the decision as another battle, and plans to set up her own trust and privately fund the work.
"Our women, children and men need this, this support, especially our children. So how dare they say you can't ...
"Yeah I've picked myself up, shaken myself off and said well, it's back to battle we go."
Between now and when her contract ends in June 2021, she plans to set up the Louise Nicholas Trust - which she said would continue her work with abuse survivors.
"We carry on doing what we do now, that's important. Nothing will change. People have already said how can we help financially, what do you need? And yes, we will need financial help from New Zealand."
Nicholas' contract is currently managed by the independent Skylight Trust, which receives funding from the Ministry.
In a statement, the Ministry of Social Development's general manager for families and communities, Mark Henderson, confirmed the $250,000 contract for National Sexual Violence Survivor Advocate services from Skylight Trust would end in June 2021.
He said the Ministry was spending $6.348 million, that was announced in Budget 2019, to provide support through a Court Support Service. The service was piloted in Auckland and will be phased-in over four years, beginning with services in Northland, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
The funding for Nicholas' current contract was part of a "transitional arrangement to ensure continued support for survivors in the Bay of Plenty region" until the court support service can be phased into the region in 2021/22, Henderson said.
The service was "co-designed with the sexual violence sector to provide a wraparound, nationwide approach to provide support and reduce the impacts survivors of sexual violence can experience as their cases progress through the criminal justice system".
"The Court Support service focuses on the needs of survivors of sexual violence, in a way that supports and increases accessibility to services. Having qualified and accredited providers located across New Zealand, ensures more survivors have access to local professional expertise as and when is needed, regardless of location," Henderson said.
As someone who has been a victim and navigated the process herself, Nicholas said she understands the struggle of the system - particularly when people are still processing trauma.
"It's about listening, and adhering to their needs and their wants and being able to support them in such a way that you guide them through the obstacles of the processes. And their voice sometimes doesn't get heard.
"So I become their voice. And I will challenge systems, I will challenge police, I will challenge whoever I bloody well have to in order for our survivor to feel safe in going through this journey."
Nicholas said outside of police, there is no other dedicated advocate for children in a courtroom. Sometimes families are not even aware of what has happened, she said.
The Ministry of Social Development said Oranga Tamariki currently funds crisis-support services for children and young people who have experienced sexual harm.
"These services may support children and young people during a court process, while Oranga Tamariki can also provide specialist support during a court process for children in its care.
"However, Oranga Tamariki does not fund separate, dedicated 'court support services' for all children and young people that have experienced sexual harm. The organisation is discussing support options in this area with MSD and the Ministry of Justice."
Nicholas estimates the trust will need several hundred thousand dollars each year to operate with herself and two other employees.
"I'm pretty honoured that people have come forward just in the past few hours and said 'where's the need'."
The National Party said in a statement it would reinstate funding for Nicholas' role.
National's social development spokesperson Louise Upston said while it was good to see new regional roles, the National Sexual Violence Survivor Advocacy was needed as well.
Nicholas played a vital role in an already traumatic experience, she said.
Where to get help:
Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.
Victim Support 0800 842 846
Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00
HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0