July 1 marked one year since the Mid-South Island Sexual Trauma/Abuse Recovery (Star) Centre opened its doors.
The sexual assault survivor support service, run by the Mid and South Canterbury Women’s Refuge, was launched last year to fill in geographical gaps in sexual harm support services for South Canterbury residents. Courier reporter Greta Yeoman talked to the Star Centre staff.
Opening the first specialised sexual assault survivor support service for South Canterbury was always going to make life more busy for the Mid and South Canterbury Women’s Refuge.
Support workers Paula Knife and Trina Ramsey did not anticipate just how much so.
Within the first six months that the Mid-South Island Sexual Trauma/Abuse Recovery (Star) Centre was in operation, staff saw 57 clients, Ms Knife said.
Of these, 18 were historical cases.
The rest were recent or new.
“It’s been a lot busier than we had anticipated.”
had had no fewer than 20 clients on their books at one time since the centre started in July 2018.
Despite the fact the centre was run by Women’s Refuge, there had been an increasing awareness that the refuge and Star Centre’s services were available to both men and women, refuge staff member Janet Lorimer said.
She estimated 20% of the Star Centre’s clientele were men, something she saw as a positive.
“They shouldn’t feel uncomfortable coming to us.”
The staff had good contact with South Canterbury police, meaning they would often contact people who might have filed a victim report with the police.
While they might not seek support immediately, it was important for survivors to know it was available, Ms Ramsey said.
“[It is about] planting the seed that support is there, just in case.”
She also believed that while sexual assault numbers, particularly those reported to police, were on the rise, it was more about people feeling fine about coming forward rather than incidents increasing.
“There’s not so much shame,” she said.
Ms Lorimer also thought people felt more comfortable these days about calling police about domestic violence incidents, or supporting family or friends to leave abusive situations.
“Before, it was ‘none of my business’.”
Thirty-one sexual assaults were reported to police in Timaru last year, compared with 21 in 2017.
So far in 2019, there had been 10 sexual assaults reported to police in the district, including seven reported in April alone.
It also helped that people were able to seek support without having to pursue a conviction, unless they wanted to, Ms Ramsey said.
“Nobody’s pushing them to take it to court.”
The centre was also hoping the extra $130million funding for sexual harm services, announced in Budget 2019, would allow the staff to extend their services to under 18-year-olds, Ms Lorimer said.
“There’s a real need.”
At present, survivors under 18 were referred to Oranga Tamariki, but this was more in a legal sense than for counselling and support, she said.
At present, the service could support a survivor’s family, but not the young people themselves.
Ms Lorimer was aware what this would mean for children and young people in South Canterbury, who were at present facing the same lack of services adult survivors in the region were until a year ago.
“[We are] keeping our fingers crossed.
Why it was launched
Trauma/Abuse Recovery (Star) Centre launched in July 2018 to help fill gaps in survivor services nationwide.
South Canterbury survivors of sexual assault had been able to seek out the police’s Victim Support service or get referrals for ACC-funded counselling in the past, but there was not a service specifically supporting survivors in the region.
The closest support centres were in either Dunedin or Christchurch.
But then the Government announced it was seeking to fill “geographical gaps” as part of a nationwide increase of funding for sexual harm support services.
The Mid and South Canterbury Women’s Refuge got the contract for South Canterbury and the Waitaki, while Ashburton clients went under Christchurch sexual assault survivor services.
Staff now visit clients as far afield as Aoraki/Mt Cook and Twizel, and Oamaru and Palmerston, support worker Trina Ramsey said.
“Our cars do a lot of kilometres.”
Services include crisis support, assistance with police interviews and medical examinations, as well as counselling.
All South Canterbury residents over 18 are able to access the service, for both recent, crisis or historical events.
A 24/7 crisis line can be called on 800 00-7750, or the office phone is (03)684-8280.
The centre is based at the Mid and South Canterbury Women’s Refuge premises at 12 Sarah St, Timaru.