National MP Nikki Kaye was almost moved to tears when survivors of rape and sexual abuse told their stories outside her office yesterday in protest at tighter rules for ACC-funded counselling.

The 29-year-old first-term Auckland Central MP told about 30 protesters that she had people in her own life who had been affected by sexual abuse.

"So I do have some understanding, so I'm going to sit down and work out what I can do in terms of raising this with ACC and with ministers," she told them.

When West Auckland mother-of-four Yvie Stewart talked about her lifelong struggle with mental illness since she was sexually abused as a child, Ms Kaye said, "I just want to hug you". Tears welled in her eyes as the two women embraced.

The group was protesting at new ACC rules which took effect this week, restricting free counselling for sexual-abuse victims to cases where a clear link can be proved between the abuse and a subsequent "psychiatric condition".

The rules also restrict counselling to 16 weeks at a time, with reviews by independent assessors to determine whether extra sessions can be funded.

Eliana Darroch, a 19-year-old beneficiary who went on a protest hunger strike from Tuesday until yesterday outside Ms Kaye's office, said abuse victims did not necessarily have a mental illness but still needed help.

"That [mental illness] is what counselling is meant to prevent," she said.

Louise Nicholas, who went to court to challenge three policemen who she said had abused her, said the new rules would bring huge costs to society because many women would be unable to get the counselling they needed.

Mrs Stewart, 47, said her four children now aged 9 to 20 would have suffered even more than they had if she had not been able to get ACC-funded counselling on and off since 1992, and intensively for the past five years.

"I used to cut and burn myself," she said. Her arms are still scarred. "I have attempted suicide and nearly died because I couldn't get the help I needed from community mental health.

"What they do is put you on pills. You start improving. Then they close your case. The pills only work for a little while because they are only dealing with the depression and not the root cause. The root cause is the abuse."

Ms Kaye said she could not guarantee that ACC or ministers would change the new rules but she promised to pass on the women's stories to them.