Southern city has most reported sexual assaults

Invercargill has more reports of sexual assault than anywhere else in the South.

Between July 2014 and May 2018, there were 302 reports of sexual assault and related offences reported in Invercargill, more than any other policing area in Otago and Southland, according to police data.

The second-highest number of reports for the same period was in Dunedin South district, with 221.

Southland Help Rape and Abuse Support Centre manager Sue Swinbourne said there were "many factors" contributing to the number of reports.

The organisation had seen 922 clients since 2014, many of whom had not gone through the police process for various reasons, she said.

Because Southland Help was the only local organisation with people who specialised in sexual harm and abuse, the team relied on their relationship with the Invercargill police to work with victims, she said.

The police were a victim's first point of contact after an incident, she said.

"We don't get a feel that it's worse down here. We just take a different approach."

Lower numbers in other policing districts could be attributed to victims using other avenues of support, she said.

"In other places like Dunedin, Rape Crisis has a 24-hour phone line, so chances are that victims, we call them survivors, maybe tend to go to that organisation, rather than going through the police."

Southland Help practice manager Rhona Shaw said she believed the statistics reflected the community's "confidence" in dealing with the police sexual harm team.

"Obviously the word is out there that they're supportive. I think it's a positive reflection on the sexual harm team.

"They come from a place of heart," she said.

Southland Help would work towards operating a 24-hour service if they deemed it necessary; however, the 24-hour Safe to Talk National Sexual Harm Helpline was available for victims, she said.

Figures released by police under the Official Information Act show the clearance rate for sexual assault is also the highest in Invercargill for the years 2015-17.

Of 215 reports of sexual assault received over this period in Southland, 54 resulted in court action and nine in non-court action after 180 days, representing a clearance rate of 29.3%, about 5% higher than the national average.

Detective Senior Sergeant Kallum Croudis, of the Child Protection and Adult Sexual Assault Team, said police were not able to draw any "definitive conclusion" on reasons for figures or fluctuations.

There were "seasonal variations" such as increases around holiday times, as well as an increased awareness of the reporting of sexual assault with movements such as the "Time's Up' and "Speak Out" movements being contributing factors, he said.

While it was "good news" when resolution rates for sexual offences were positive, it was important victims felt comfortable in reporting any incident of sexual assault to be investigated and for victims to be offered appropriate support, he said.

"We strongly encourage anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault to come forward and speak with police," he said.


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