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Needed . . . Mid-South Island STAR centre staff members Trina Ramsey (left) and Paula Knife look at a brochure promoting the sexual harm support service, which launched six months ago and has been in high demand. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

by Greta Yeoman

About 60% of the sexual assault cases being dealt with by staff at the Mid-South Island Star Centre are historical, the manager says.

Mid and South Canterbury Women’s Refuge manager Dawn Rangi-Smith said the response to the launch of the sexual harm support service – which started in July 2018 – had shown the need for the organisation in South Canterbury and North Otago.

Before the launch of the Sexual Trauma/Abuse Recovery (Star) centre, South Canterbury survivors could receive support through the police’s Victim Support service or referrals to ACC’s sexual harm counselling.

Staff had been dealing with both historical and recent sexual assault cases from clients around South Canterbury and the Waitaki since the service launched.

Support worker staff member Paula Knife said she and colleague Trina Ramsey had been “busier than expected” since launching and had a “constant” workload of current and historical cases.

Some clients had approached the service themselves, others were current or former clients of the refuge and several referrals had come from the police, she said.

While all the clients needed to be 18 or over – as those under 18 go under the care of Oranga Tamariki (the Ministry of Children) – the centre had been supporting the family members of several teenage girls who had been assaulted, Ms Ramsay said.

She had also seen parents disclose their historical sexual abuse for the first time, after bottling it up for years.

“It’s impacted their whole lives.”

She encouraged people to contact the service about any recent or past sexual assault cases and to not feel ashamed about what had happened to them.

“That person is the victim, it’s not their fault.”

Ms Knife also reminded people that sexual assault was not necessarily “done by creepy men”.

“Some of them are just normal people . . . they’re your uncles, grandfathers.”

One offender had pleaded guilty and was going through the restorative justice process while another offender was up for sentencing in the coming months, Ms Rangi-Smith said.

Timaru police data showed there were 31 sexual assaults recorded by police last year, up from 20 recorded in 2017.

However, not all assaults are reported to the police.

Ms Rangi-Smith said while they were supporting a few clients with recent cases of “random” attacks, about 80% of assaults were committed by family or friends of the survivor.

She also reminded residents that it was not only women who were sexually assaulted – the service was supporting one male survivor at present.

Ms Knife said while there was “shame” about being assaulted, it was not the fault of the survivor.

“It’s a power thing  . . . it’s like domestic violence.”

For more information on the STAR Centre or South-Mid Canterbury Women’s Refuge, ring (03)684-8280, or visit 12 Sarah St, Timaru, between 8.30am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday.