Changes to ACC disgust abuse survivor

A Dunedin woman who endured sexual abuse for 20 years says she is "absolutely disgusted" ACC wants to make it more difficult for survivors to access ACC-funded counselling.

"I can't help but think shame on the Government for allowing this, and shame on them for not supporting innocent children who were never protected in the first place," Terri, now in her 30s, said yesterday.

ACC plans to introduce new rules next week for sexual abuse victims.

To receive ACC-funded counselling, they will have to undergo a psychological assessment first and prove they have a mental illness resulting from their abuse.

ACC chief executive Dr Jan White told The Herald on Sunday newspaper yesterday there was nothing in the changes that would stop people covered by ACC from getting the support they needed.

But the changes, first announced six weeks ago, have been strongly criticised by many, including the professional bodies representing counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists and social workers, and a protest group led by survivors.

The No Cuts to ACC Sexual Abuse Counselling group has organised a petition and a national day of protest action today.

Terri, whose real name is still suppressed by the courts, said she would be among those protesting outside ACC's offices in Maclaggan St and attending a rally in the Octagon this afternoon.

Terri's abuser, Frank Robertson Smith, was convicted in the Dunedin District Court three years ago.

After the court case, Terri attended more than 40 counselling sessions over nine months.

She said counselling was "daunting enough" for traumatised survivors without having to undergo a psychological assessment first.

"Abuse destroys any trust you have . . . You don't want to open up. You don't want to risk being hurt again. I think it took me 10 to 15 sessions before I trusted my counsellor enough to open up to her."

She would not have gone to counselling if she had had to have a psychological assessment first, she said, and with sessions costing at least $90 each, could not have afforded to pay for them herself.

Terri, who supports other survivors through a website, said counselling was "very difficult but worth it" and she would not like to see it limited for others.

"I can't emphasise enough how important counselling was for me. It enabled me to recover my self-value. I thought I was an oxygen thief, that I had no right to be breathing other people's air.

"It also helped me cope with triggers and flashbacks, and has opened me up to the possibility of forming a loving relationship. But most of all, it has enabled me to trust again."


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