Get sexual violence services properly funded. Please.

8249_504122602977848_1658736227_nAfter a lot of hard work and a brave, confronting campaign lead by Green MP Jan Logie, Parliament has finally agreed to hold an inquiry into the funding of sexual violence services.

This is really important. These services are vital and we need to do better. If you don’t believe me, consider these points:

  • Currently Wellington Rape Crisis is only operating 5 days a week because Hell Pizza, guilty from giving pizza as a reward for a sexual assault, offered to bridge their funding shortfall. The agency’s operations will be at risk again next funding round.
  • Auckland Sexual Abuse Help has, for at least the second time in recent memory, been forced to announce closure of their one-of-a-kind 24 hour phone line. Only thanks to another frantic rallying of their community was this service saved at the last minute, again, by the Government doing a backflip and acting like they’re the heroes.
  • There’s a government Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence which produced these recommendations in 2009 and has done virtually nothing towards them. Most of what has been done has been led by the sector itself, with limited resources, as opposed to the government support this Taskforce was supposed to foster.
  • According to the 2007 New Zealand Crime and Safety Report, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will experience distressing and unwanted sexual contact in their lifetime. Anecdotally, the number is much higher for men, but there are more complications around identification and reporting.
  • There is a glaring and dangerous lack of specialist support for male survivors of sexual abuse in the sexual violence sector.
  • This is the same for trans survivors, migrant survivors, Māori and Pacific survivors.
  • Services which provide specialist support for perpetrators of sexual violence and their families are few and far between, yet just as important as survivor services.
  • Many agencies operating in the sexual violence sector need more staff to keep up with demand but can’t afford them. Existing staff are woefully underpaid and it’s seen as part and parcel with choosing to go into that line of work.
  • Support and advocacy services (non-counselling work such as help with living circumstances and finances) are often more crucial for clients than counselling in the first instance. However, these services are even more scarcely funded than counselling.
  • There is a good chance you know someone who would like to seek help from a sexual violence agency but doesn’t want to be a burden on their limited resources, or doesn’t feel any current services are a good fit for them.
  • All sexual violence agencies are aware of the value of delivering primary prevention education to their communities as one of the best strategies in reducing sexual violence. But given the struggle to provide the bare minimum of counselling and support to clients, agencies are rarely able to do the work that would ultimately help reduce the need for their existence.

Let’s be clear about what “vital” means when we talk about these services. All too often, agency staff are the difference between life and death for their clients, both metaphorically and literally.

Staff provide clients with tools and support to work through trauma, and help provide their loved ones with the strength and knowledge to confidently stand by them. Staff can help with housing issues, medical referrals, access to funding for study or training, childcare and much more.

Organisations in the sexual violence sector recognise that rape and sexual abuse affects every part of a person’s life, and work holistically within this.

They would love to not just be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but this is the service which currently gets the most funding from the Government. Think of the work these agencies, who are experts at things you’d rather not think about, could do in their communities with better resources. Think of the people they could reach and the attitudes they could change.

No matter how vital an organisation is, if the climate in which it operates doesn’t value or support the work it does – it will die. Our Government has created a hostile environment for many community not-for-profit agencies. We live under an administration that feels competition is a good thing, not just in the private sector, but in community service provision.

While excellence in service should always be strived for, the way to achieve this is not to pit tiny, often volunteer-run organisations against each other for laughable sums of money. Money that they have to annually re-apply for at great expense of their already stretched resources. Money that makes organisations scared to speak out against Government initiatives for fear of being reprimanded through the loss of their funding.

This Government believes that the answer to everything is the private sector, and that corporate/community partnerships are the way of the future. But while the term “survivor of rape” still makes people shut their eyes and block their ears, sexual violence agencies have no chance of being the next glossy recipient of the Vodafone Annual Feel Good Backpat Fest 2013.

I am sick to death of people desperately trying to rally 11th hour awareness for services people like to have, but rarely want to think about.

Consider the statistics I’ve outlined above. One in four women will experience sexual violence. That’s a quarter of all of the women you know. If that isn’t a crisis, I’m not sure what is.

This shouldn’t be about politics. This should be about recognising that rape is a crisis. If I’m going to be glib (which I am) I might also point out that investing in the prevention and treatment of sexual assault enables more women to be productive little cogs in our economic wheel. It’s a safe, reciprocal investment.

But it shouldn’t be about that. It’s about the fact that we live in a society in which every single woman you have ever known or even walked past has a script for protecting herself. She knows which neighbours keep the lights on for the longest, which shoes she can run easily in, and how to slot her keys between her fingers to use as a weapon if she needs to.

We live in a society where male survivors are too scared to come forward because apparently ‘you can’t rape men’. Trans and genderqueer survivors don’t quite fit anywhere. Agencies that work in culturally safe ways for indigenous and migrant communities are seen as niche.

But now we have an opportunity to speak out at a national legislative level on how unacceptable this status quo is. Submissions to the inquiry into the funding of specialist sexual violence social services are open now until 10 October.

I want to be very clear – you do NOT have to be a client or an associate of the sexual violence sector to submit. You do not have to be a survivor. You just have to be someone who, like me, wants to trust that if I or anyone I love needs help, this is a country which gives it and values those who give it.

You can make a submission, and read more about the guidelines and process here.

If the jargon puts you off, or you feel like you don’t know enough about what is definitely a specialist sector, just talk about what having these services around means to you. What you would want to see these services do if they were adequately resourced.

There will be submission writing workshops run by agencies and community groups so keep your eyes peeled and don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Please speak out for services which are often invisible. Their impacts aren’t.

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And yes, isn’t it bleak that we have to spell out why these services are so important, and why they’re struggling without proper support? Feel free to put that in your submission.

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