8 May 2015

Historical abuse claims process criticised

8:56 am on 8 May 2015

A man who was physically and sexually abused in state care is scoffing at a fast-track process for historical abuse cases.

New Zealand Government, parliament

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Under the new system, the Ministry of Social Development will accept any claims of abuse made before the end of last year on face value after some fact-checking - it will then pay up and offer an apology.

So far only 580 of the 1500 historical abuse claims received by the Government have been resolved.

Grant Mahy said he endured horrific abuse while living in a state-run home for emotionally disturbed children in the 1970s.

He was 10 years old at the time.

Mr Mahy put in a historical claim with the Ministry of Social Development in 2011 - and was paid $30,000 and given what he calls a dubious apology.

He said the Government's fast-track scheme was a way of getting the victim backlog down as easily as possible.

"They're trying to make it go away," he said.

Mr Mahy said the United Nations Torture Committee was to give the New Zealand government feedback on how it had dealt with the historical claims later this month.

He said this programme was a last minute bid to look like something was being done.

"Everything the New Zealand government has done to date is cynical.

"They're about to be slammed by the UN without a doubt. Anyone who's involved in these claims - wait for a couple of weeks and see what happens with the UN because New Zealand isn't going to get away with this."

Ken Clearwater worked with the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust and was molested himself.

He said many abuse survivors feared authority figures, so would feel pressured to take up the offer and potentially would end up with less compensation than they were owed.

But Mr Clearwater said it was not just about money, with many victims struggling with addictions they could not shake.

"If you give an alcoholic $10, $20, or $30,000 he's not going to go and buy a house," he said.

"If you're going to give these people money there needs to be services available to help and support them in how they are going to use that money for a better future. You just can't fix the damage that's been done in the past."

To clear through the backlog of historical state abuse complaints, the Government set up the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service, to hear from survivors and give them advice.

It is closing next month and is not being replaced.

The service's chair, Judge Carolyn Henwood, said it dealt with more than 1000 complaints - and hoped the government's fast-track programme would help at least some of them.

"I've been incredibly worried about how it will end," she said.

"Suddenly, a month before we close, this has come to light which I'm looking at in a positive light, thinking that maybe many hundreds of people will accept this and be satisfied."

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