16 Jun 2021

Sexual violence survivors cannot wait a year for help from ACC

3:22 pm on 16 June 2021

By Robyn Whitetree*

Content warning: sexual violence

Opinion - Survivors of sexual violence are at a breaking point when they seek help from ACC, not a year later when ACC has time to assess their claim. That's how long some survivors are waiting to get seen to by ACC and access funded therapy, therapy that can be life saving.

woman sitting on bed in room with light from window (abuse concept)

Women are waiting for as long as a year to have their claims processed. Photo: 123RF

Over two thirds of all sexual violence ACC claims do not make it through the system to reach therapist care. This is according to information obtained by RNZ and Green Party ACC spokesperson, Jan Logie, under the Official Information Act. Anusha Bradley first reported on the findings of this OIA in May, detailing that "almost half give up their claims for long-term support, with advocates saying it's because the process is too traumatic".

I first initiated an ACC claim with my doctor in November of 2020. Seven months later, in June 2021, I received an email from ACC stating that I should expect at least another three months on the waitlist. Not to see a therapist, but to be assessed by ACC - for them to tell me whether I was entitled to professional help.

Victim-survivors of sexual violence have usually tried everything else before seeking therapy through ACC. Before initiating my claim with ACC, I'd spent five harrowing years in and out of different doctors' and specialists' offices attempting to address the physical repercussions of the sexual assault I experienced.

These doctors referred me to various counsellors who helped in the short term. They taught me how to handle nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, anxiety - some of the common symptoms an individual may experience as a result of sexual assault or abuse.

This was not a long-term solution, at least not for the deeper wounds caused by the assault I experienced. I'd need a therapist for that. In short, counselling is beneficial for survivors to be able to voice what happened to them, and learn to manage their day-to-day symptoms of trauma. They help you to survive what happened to you. Just surviving, however, isn't enough. Therapy is usually what a survivor requires to actually be able to live.

Each counsellor I met with told me after only a few sessions that I needed to seek specialist help, and I'd need to initiate an ACC claim to access funding for these services. They also warned me that doing so would be traumatic - I'd have to wait a long time, and have to recount the assault to several parties, plead my case, in a way. And maybe, just maybe, I'd be able to get funded therapy.

The process of lodging a sensitive claim - the official term for an ACC claim relating to sexual assault or abuse - appears straight forward. First, your doctor or a counsellor will refer you to ACC and you will then go on a waitlist to be assessed. An ACC representative will then determine if you fit the criteria to receive funded therapy. Meeting the criteria means that the event has to have happened in New Zealand, and you have to be experiencing a mental or physical injury as a result of the event. You'll then go on a waitlist to meet with an ACC accredited therapist in your area. Not all therapists work with ACC to provide therapy to victim-survivors of sexual violence.

But the process of making a sensitive claim isn't just long and traumatic - it's also plagued by inconsistencies. Take this as an example: I have a friend who initiated a sensitive claim in January 2021. We're both enrolled at the same general practice, both middle class, early twenties, both Māori and Pākehā. We fit incredibly similar profiles, but this individual was able to be matched with an ACC accredited trauma therapist in May, only five months after initiating their claim.

The difference between our cases? My friend was referred by their counsellor at the practice, directly to an accredited therapist who could assess their ACC claim, effectively bypassing the process of being assessed by ACC. Conversely, I was referred by my doctor directly to ACC who will assess my claim and then place me with a trauma therapist, should I meet their requirements.

No individual doctor, therapist, or ACC representative is to blame for these inconsistencies, the long wait times, or the traumatic processes survivors have to go through in order to get sufficient help. But, with one in three New Zealanders experiencing sexual violence in their lifetimes, the current system is simply unacceptable.

Our high levels of sexual violence mean that every New Zealander knows someone affected by it. Government funding for support needs to reflect this. While funding for preventative initiatives were a welcome announcement with this year's budget, sitting at over $130 million dollars, funding also has to reflect the extent to which sexual violence has already impacted so many lives in Aotearoa.

*The author's name has been changed to protect her identity.

A statement from ACC says ACC offers fully-funded support, treatment and assessment services for survivors of sexual abuse or assault. Survivors can access up to 14 hours of one-to-one therapy, 10 hours of social work, and up to 20 hours of family/whānau support before having their claim assessed for cover. Visit findsupport.co.nz to find a therapy provider who is registered with ACC.

Where to get help:

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

Empowerment Trust

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.

Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

The National Network of Family Violence Services NZ has information on specialist family violence agencies.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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