Lockdown cases yet to come . . . Mid South Island Women's Refuge and Family Safety Services manager Dawn Rangi-Smith and STAR representative Paula Knife. PHOTO: GEORGE CLARK

by George Clark

One in four people experience sexual assault in their lifetime, but 94% of those assaults are not reported to the police, the largest survey of crime in New Zealand shows.

The New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey talked to more than 8000 people over the past year, to form what the Ministry of Justice said is the most comprehensive picture of crime in this country.

The report published by the Ministry said 24% of adults – or more than 900,000 people – experienced one or more sexual assaults in their lifetime.

Mid and South Canterbury Women’s Refuge and Family Safety Services manager Dawn Rangi-Smith and Sexual Trauma and Abuse Recovery support worker Paula Knife said it was unusual to have only one person sexually abused from a family.

“Typically one person calls up to speak to us, then four or five from that same family come forward when they see that it is safe. Until that one person stands up for it, the rest do not, which without a doubt leads to such a high unreported case number.”

Dawn Rangi-Smith said younger women did not want to report instances of sexual abuse as processes can often be traumatic.

“A lot of it is fear of complications in going to court or the police. Not all, but a lot, are on the wrong side of the law and do not trust the justice system especially if they are drug or gang-related.”

She said if victims go to them, they were not required to report it.

“We can help whether they go to the police or not. Child abuse is mandated to be reported to police but adult cases are not; 95% of women who have come into Women’s Refuge have had some type of sexual abuse yet never known what it was.”

Paula Knife said those who had found a bad path in adulthood can be often traced back to an instance of sexual abuse as a child.

Ms Knife found 60% of South Canterbury cases were against males and implored those affected to continue to come forward.

“Quite often it is teenage boys speaking to those they trust about the fact they have been abused, which has really surprised us over the last 12 months. It starts with speaking to a school counsellor and then finds its way to us.”

Ms Knife said Women’s Refuge was yet to see “lockdown cases”.

“It is still early days but that potential spike will be coming. A lot of people do not understand what has happened to them is actually sexual abuse and we aim to educate them.”

Sexual assault is broken down to rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault, with abuse being the most common.

There are at present 17 active cases of sexual abuse and sexual assault within the Mid South Island Women’s Refuge. Last year it saw 68 cases.

Ms Knife said people must understand that rape is not part of a relationship.

“Speak up. Go and talk to somebody. The police have a fantastic team. You will not get blamed for it, like you see on TV. It does not matter whether you have had a few drinks or taken drugs. Sexual abuse is sexual abuse. We are a phone call or email away with total confidentiality.”

Where you can go to get help

  • Call Women’s Refuge free Crisisline on 800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843
  • For South Canterbury Women’s Refuge and Family Safety Services directly call 03 684 8280
  • Or email
  • If you are in trouble or feel unsafe, dial 111 for police

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