Survivors rejected: advocate

Photo: Getty Images
File photo: Getty Images
Southern survivors of sexual abuse are being turned away for important support at an alarming rate, leaving them devastated and re-traumatised, an advocate claims.

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) has come under fire for disestablishing its Wellington-based sensitive claims unit, which dealt with physical or mental injuries following criminal acts, including sexual violence, in favour of regional case managers.

There have also been concerns about the number of survivors having claims declined.

ACC says it has not changed how it assesses sensitive claims, and that it has increased the number of specialist staff working one-on-one with survivors.

Male Survivors Otago manager Michael Chamberlain said he was aware of at least four men in recent months who had had claims either denied or downgraded by ACC.

"They’re devastated, basically they don’t know where to go."

There had been other instances of people being told their sexual abuse had no lasting effect on them, and their issues stemmed from alcohol abuse instead, he said.

But there was a direct correlation between sexual abuse and substance abuse.

Mr Chamberlain believed ACC was under pressure to reduce spending.

He was also concerned about long wait times to see ACC-approved therapists.

Otepoti Collective Against Sexual Abuse crisis support team member Larissa Hinds said the organisation had seen a huge number of referrals for longer-term, focused
therapeutic support.

"To meet community need, we have been focusing on increasing our crisis support staffing to manage this higher number of new people needing the service.

"Importantly, we are aware of a nationwide shortage of skilled practitioners for supporting communities in their healing — this gap is especially clear where there is a shortage of therapists skilled to work with rangatahi/young people and tamariki/children."

Part of the problem in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector was that NGOs were competing for skilled staff with the likes of ACC, Oranga Tamariki and the private sector, all of which traditionally offered higher pay rates.

But the ACC pathway could itself be a barrier to accessing long-term support, she said.

People could be excluded by ACC’s criteria, subject to long wait lists, or experience bureaucratic barriers from the compulsory assessment process.

An ACC spokeswoman said it offered fully funded support, treatment and assessment services for survivors of sexual abuse and assault.

That included pre-cover support of up to 14 hours of one-to-one therapy, 10 hours of social work, and 20 hours of family/whanau support before a claim was assessed, the ACC spokeswoman said.

She said the sensitive claims team had managers in eight locations, including Dunedin.

The number of specially trained staff working one-on-one with survivors had been increased from 85 to 140.

Alcohol or substance use disorders could sometimes be covered by ACC if they were caused by the sexual abuse.

"ACC may also provide a client support for these disorders, where they do not meet the criteria for cover, if these problems present a barrier to their rehabilitation or treatment for their covered injuries," she said.

As for wait lists, recent reporting from some providers ACC worked with suggested the wait time to see a therapist in Otago and Southland was about eight weeks.

"Wait times can vary significantly, depending on the client’s requirements, such as the gender and cultural background of the therapist they wish to see, area of expertise required, and even the time of day the client can attend appointments."

Need help?

Need to talk? 1737, free 24/7 phone and text number
Otepoti Collective Against Sexual Abuse (Ocasa):(03) 474-1592
Male Survivors Otago:(03) 425-8018
Women’s Refuge: 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733-843
Shine:  9am-11pm every day, 0508 744-633
Shakti: for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and children.  0800 742-584
Rape Crisis: 0800 883-300



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