16 Aug 2017

Months-long delays for rape victims' ACC support

8:42 am on 16 August 2017

People who have been raped or sexually assaulted are sometimes having to wait months to access ACC-funded specialist support services.

Damning statistics around teenage abuse have been revealed in a new paper, released by the University of Otago.

Photo: 123rf.com

Some counsellors and therapists in Auckland have lengthy waiting lists for appointments and others are not taking any new patients.

One woman, Jennifer*, was trying to find a new counsellor. She had gone through the process of reporting a historical rape and needed support.

She started contacting people on ACC's list in the Auckland area.

"I found that there was roughly a two-month wait list, minimum, to see most counsellors. I mass-emailed many on the ACC list and many said that they were not taking on any new clients," she said.

"I found this quite distressing."

Through sheer luck and persistence, Jennifer has been able to find a new counsellor.

She said she was not impressed that she had been repeatedly told she would have to wait to get the help she needed.

"People who have been sexually assaulted often become suicidal or have other mental health issues. I found that a 60-day wait or longer to get funded counselling was very poor and not all survivors have the means to pay for a private counsellor."

HELP is an organisation that provides specialist support services to victims of sexual abuse and assault in Auckland.

Executive director Kathryn McPhillips said, like other providers, it was facing delays for people trying to access its counselling or therapy services.

"That delay can be anywhere from a few weeks, up to six months, maybe even eight months at times," she said.

"Our crisis service provides support during that time, so people can ring in or they can have acute sessions with us if they need to, but yes, it can be months that people are waiting."

Ms McPhillips said victims were often reluctant to seek help until their situation became desperate.

"It's something people do usually when they've hit the wall, so when they feel like they're in crisis or they can't hold on anymore, or they really need this thing solved in their life, or the offender is coming out of prison. There's all sorts of things that trigger people to that point of needing help."

Part of the problem was changes made by ACC in November 2014, which reduced and removed barriers for people to access support after experiencing sexual violence, Ms McPhillips said.

That led to an influx of people seeking help - without the necessary workforce there to cope.

"I think that people who were not able to access counselling before because it required some additional payment, once it was free then a whole lot of people were like, 'yes, I need some help, please help me now'.

"To be honest, services haven't been able to keep up with that demand."

Ms McPhillips said they needed more qualified staff, but they lacked the funding to do any specialist training themselves.

However, the government had committed more resources to the sector which should help longer-term, she said.

Andrea Black from Rape Crisis said it was important that specialist support services for survivors of sexual assault and violence were adequately resourced.

"If you don't have enough people on the ground to provide that service, or enough resources to do that, it's really distressing.

"It's really upsetting for workers, for volunteers, for our skilled workers, but even more so for families who may have to wait for days or weeks to access a specialist support person," she said.

In a statement, ACC said it was aware of delays for counselling services in areas like Auckland, Dunedin and Rotorua, and was looking into why demand for services was greater than the number of providers.

It said it was encouraging providers to employ more staff, and was working with professional organisations and tertiary institutions to boost the workforce.

ACC said its goal was to have no significant waiting period to accessing counselling and therapy services.

* Name has been changed

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