Sexual violence services need more help

I spoke about the need for action on sexual violence in my maiden speech; not just endless talkfests. I hope by now everyone in this country is aware of the seriousness of our collective problem with sexual violence. It is an epidemic, part of an epidemic of violence against women and children.

In the first couple of years of being an MP, I supported Auckland Sexual Abuse Helpline in their very successful campaign to stop funding cuts that would have closed down Auckland’s only 24/7 sexual abuse phone line. We then supported Wellington Rape Crisis in their fight to keep their doors open 5 days a week in the face of funding cuts. We surveyed specialist sexual violence providers and found out over 1/3 of the 22 we were in contact with were considering closing or cutting back services. We only found out too late that Hawera Rape Crisis was closing.

It was a rough time for already incredibly stretched agencies as they struggled to deal with changes to ACC – brought in by the National government – that had halved the number of practitioners and funding for specialist claims. This was alongside changes to MSD funding criteria that focussed resources on children and parents, as well as funding just not meeting the needs for services.

In response to this desperate situation I started a campaign called ‘Everyone needs the right help’ to increase funding to specialist sexual violence services, and ensure the development of appropriate support services and pathways for people with disabilities, Maori, Pasifika, LGBTQI and men. Thousands of New Zealanders signed postcards and expressed their support for this. I’ve been out collecting signatures for many things in my time but nothing has been as easy to gather support for as this was.

I also went to see Alfred Ngaro, from the National Party who was on the Social Services select committee, as I was aware he was passionate about some of these issues. Alfred and I then worked together to develop parameters for a parliamentary inquiry into funding for special sexual violence social services. This had the backing of the Minister responsible for sexual violence Paula Bennett.

997 submissions were presented to the select committee, including one from Māori providers with over 200 signatures. The submissions will be available to read, many were gruelling accounts of the impact of gaps in services, and the impact of stretched funding on the staff, and what a difference the right help made. There were also very detailed and informed submissions suggesting models for change.

We heard from Māori providers who informed us that while Māori are twice as likely to experience sexual violence and have very high rates of re-victimisation the number of specialist Kaupapa Māori services has reduced from approximately 30 in the 1990s to fewer than 6 today. They also informed us of a breakdown of relationship with ACC that has meant there is no kaupapa Māori pathway for Māori with sensitive claims, despite kaupapa Māori models being more effective restoratively and having a stronger prevention value.

In the middle of this process the Government announced a $10.4m funding package over two years to stabilise the sector and stop any more agencies closing down. The inquiry has heard loud and clear of the ongoing need for this funding to be renewed and increased. They were also working on a new model for ACC to wind back the reforms that the select committee were told had resulted in suicides and a loss of services.

Today the select committee report is public and I think it is worth celebrating as it does provide us with guidance for creating an entirely new system to ensure everyone can get the right help.

Today the next stage of the work starts, to ensure the government now acts to deliver a coherent policy and funding framework for services from prevention, crisis, long term recover and care and treatment for offenders, increased funding and better design of services with improved geographic coverage, kaupapa Maori pathways and more targeted services for people with disabilities and other needs.

This is an issue that I am very passionate about but my efforts and those of other committee members fade into insignificance compared to the work of advocates in the sector who have been stretching themselves to breaking point for far too long now to ensure victim/survivors get the right help; keeping the vision of a violence free society alive for us all. I won’t stop doing what I can to support this.

You can read the report here.