4 Aug 2017

Call for independent watchdog needed to protect children in care

2:20 pm on 4 August 2017

Two rape complaints by young girls living at the same state-run home shows the urgent need for an independent watchdog to protect the interests of children in care, the Children's Commissioner says.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Police confirmed they have an active investigation into the report a 12-year-old girl was sexual assaulted by two teenage boys while she lived at the home.

A second girl alleged she was sexually assaulted by a boy in December while she lived at the same home but police closed the investigation because of insufficient evidence.

Police said they immediately followed up the first complaint but their efforts were stymied because the girl was unwilling to speak to investigators and repeatedly ran away from care.

The girl's mother said police took her back to the home after she made the complaint.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said the case showed the urgent need for a clear, comprehensive complaints procedure.

Judge Becroft said an independent watchdog was needed.

The head of the sexual abuse service HELP, Kathryn McPhillips, said it was all too common for young complainants to be put back into the same place they were violated, which revictimised them.

"Their nervous system will be constantly in a state of arousal and terror, and so that harm keeps being perpetrated while they are put in that unsafe situation regardless of whether or not the person can act against them again."

Child safety should come first, even before holding the perpetrator accountable, she said.

"Our criminal justice system in terms of sexual violence is so ineffective that people's safety is constantly compromised.

"So until we fix that, until we manage to get a realistic conviction rate using the criminal justice system we need to be doing something else instead."

Lesley Acland who heads Wellstop, an organisation working with sexual offenders, said the children doing the abusing were often victims themselves.

"You can't just go 'Well, these are the victims so we'll try and provide services for them'.

"If you want to change things, you've got to provide services for those who've engaged in the harm and then you've got to also provide some really good prevention services."