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Southern support . . . Mid-South Island STAR centre staff members Paula Knife (second from left) and Trina Ramsey (second from right) are set to provide South Canterbury survivors of sexual assault with support, under a new service. They will be based in the Mid-South Canterbury Women's Refuge alongside refuge staff (from left) Gail Rowland, Andie Kelly and Arahia Goldsmith. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

by Greta Yeoman

South Canterbury survivors of sexual harm are set to have direct access to a region-wide support service.

The Mid-South Canterbury Women’s Refuge, based in Timaru, has been funded to provide the new scheme for clients affected by a recent or historic sexual assault.

New service fits MSD priorities

The Sexual Trauma/Abuse Recovery (Star) Centre would officially launch in Timaru on July 1, filling one of the “geographical gaps” in sexual violence sector support, the Ministry of Social Development’s community partnerships and programmes general manager, Marama Edwards, said.

“Reducing family violence and sexual violence is a priority for the Ministry of Social Development.”

She said the ministry was working with existing sexual violence sector services, along with launching new services to provide more support for survivors of sexual trauma across New Zealand.

This was funded by a Budget 2016 assignment of $46million over four years for more funding for the sector, Ms Edwards said.

“We’re working hard to fill the geographical gaps across New Zealand identified as needing these services.”

Other areas that were identified as lacking adequate sexual trauma support services included Hamilton and four other Waikato districts, along with Ashburton and Clutha-Gore.

Refuge manager Dawn Rangi-Smith said the service, which would be the first of its kind in South Canterbury, would provide support for sexual assault survivors, as well as their whanau.

The Ministry of Social Development had noticed the lack of sexual trauma services across the country and had pitched the scheme to the refuge, Ms Rangi-Smith said.

“They observed the gaps quite a while ago.”

Two new staff members had been employed ahead of the July 1 launch, but there was potential for more people to be employed if demand required it, she said.

“We’re not sure if we’ll be busy or not.”

However, other sexual harm organisations around the country, including Rape Crisis in Dunedin, were in high demand and a similar situation could be expected in South Canterbury, she said.

The Sexual Trauma/Abuse Recovery (STAR) service, based at the refuge’s Sarah St site, would provide immediate support and advocacy for survivors and their families across the region, including in the Mackenzie, Waimate and Waitaki districts.

Extending support services to family members was rare, but it would provide support for someone if they were having trouble dealing with the fact their partner or child had been assaulted, Ms Rangi-Smith said.

Staff would be available 24/7 to accompany clients to police interviews, sexual abuse assessments, treatment services and forensic medical examinations; as well as providing crisis counselling and referring people to other services, if wanted.

Ms Rangi-Smith said the services would be available to people who had survived crisis, recent or historic assault cases.

Reported sexual assault statistics

Fifty sexual assaults were reported to Timaru police between July 2014 and April 2018, police data shows.

Thirteen of these occurred in the 12 months from the end of April 2015, 12 in the corresponding period in 2016-17, and 25 in the 12 months ending on April 2018.

Between the end of July 2014 and April 2018, there were five reported sexual assaults in the Mackenzie district, two of which occurred in the 12 months following April 28, 2017.

Eight sexual assaults were reported in Waimate between July 2014 and April 2018, six of which were recorded between May 1 last year and April 30 this year.

Four sexual assaults were reported the police in the Waitaki district between July 2014 and April 2018. One of these was reported between May 1 last year and April 30, 2018.

People could self-refer or be referred, and their trauma could be recent or historic as sometimes something “triggered” off the trauma again, she said.

Ms Rangi-Smith said about 85% of their refuge clients had some sort of sexual harm in their history, and while about 70% were able to continue with life afterwards, the fact they could now support those who needed help would be beneficial for everyone.

Until now, South Canterbury survivors could only receive support through the police’s Victim Support service or referrals to ACC’s sexual harm counselling.

All of the service’s clients would be aged 18 and over, as those under 18 would go directly under the care of Oranga Tamariki (the Ministry of Children).

The service will be launched officially on July 1.

Where to get help
The Sexual Trauma/Abuse Recovery (STAR) service officially launches on July 1.
If people need urgent support, they can contact the Mid-South Canterbury Women’s Refuge on (03) 684-8280, or visit 12 Sarah St, Timaru, between 8.30am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday.