19 May 2016

Will funding for sexual violence go where it’s needed?

11:44 am on 19 May 2016

The Government announced yesterday it would commit $46 million over four years to better support victims of, and prevent, sexual violence. But those working on the frontline are concerned the money isn’t being directed towards the areas it's most needed.

The $46 million, of which approximately $40 million is new funding, will be used for both new and existing sexual violence services.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says in the past the sector has been fragmented and struggled to meet demand. 

“We are now investing properly in the right places to ensure there is a long-term plan in place which focuses on prevention, appropriate crisis support for victims, and on-going help to enable victims to try to recover.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But Wellington Rape Crisis agency manager, Eleanor Butterworth says there seems to be a “mismatch” between where the money is proposed to be allocated and the needs of the majority of victims. 

“I think it’s a really positive step and definitely shows commitment and my hope is when designing services we keep looking at the facts, not at the ideas we hold about sexual violence that may not be correct.”

According to initial proposal, the government will focus on three main areas:

  • Crisis response for victims, including a new 24/7 national helpline and more effective response in the 72 hours after a sexual assault;
  • Harmful sexual behaviour services to reduce offending and reoffending, focusing on adults who pose a risk to children;
  • Services for male survivors of sexual abuse.

Butterworth says while immediate support is vital, most victims don’t report sexual violence crimes in the first days following the crime.

“The reality is only about 9 per cent of people report sexual violence at all, and it’s not usually in the first 72 hours. While having support there for those immediate victims is important, it’s also important that we keep developing responses for the other 90 per cent of victims.”

She wants to see more invested in long-term social work support for victims who may not be ready for counselling, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress and long-term mental illnesses. 

She says the second area of focus (supporting adults who pose a risk to children) is brilliant, but more resources should be put toward adults offending other adults as well. 

“In the last week, we’ve had four guys come us and say they are worried about their behaviour in terms of offending against adult women. There just isn’t really any support available for them at the moment.

“The Government needs to be looking at the facts but am pleased at their intention to work closely with the services in designing a response." 

Rape Crisis offices all over the country have been struggling to stay afloat. In 2012, Wellington Rape Crisis was on the brink of cutting its hours from five days a week to four days a week. 

The Wellington office alone costs about $360,000 a year to run. An emergency $10.4 million injection by the government two years ago helped it stay afloat, but Butterworth says it’s still not clear if that funding will remain as part of the new budget announcement.

“There seems to be a focus on immediate crisis response, but we hope the Government remembers that actually, for most people, crisis for sexual violence is often a personal crisis and doesn’t just mean the hours following an assault.”

READ: Providers hope sexual abuse funding will bring change

National Rape Crisis spokesperson Andrea Black said the funding announcement comes as a relief, but the Government needed to review how that money was allocated.

"There are areas where our specialist services have been reduced or have not been able to access that funding because they don't have MSD approval.

"In terms of building capacity, there's a long way to go yet, especially from a Kaupapa Māori perspective, and often there are no Kaupapa Māori services or they're not funded."