ACC failing to help most sex abuse victims

Click here for the story as it appeared in the New Zealand Herald

Almost 90 per cent of accident compensation claims for sexual abuse counselling have been either turned down or held for more information since tough new rules came into force last October.

Official figures from the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) confirm reports from counsellors that hundreds of victims of rape and other sexual abuse are being turned away from counselling.

Thousands more have been scared off applying for counselling, as the numbers applying have halved from a reported 550 a month last year to an average of 250 a month in the first six months after the new rules came into force on October 27.

Only 178 of the 1498 victims who applied for counselling in the six months to April 30 were accepted for counselling, an acceptance rate of 11.9 per cent.

Comparative data for recent years is no longer available on the ACC website, but ACC said in 2001 that 93.8 per cent of the sexual abuse claims received in the year to June 2001, or 5229 claims, were accepted.

A panel appointed by ACC Minister Nick Smith to review the new rules has agreed to attend what is said to be the world’s first “sexual abuse survivors’ summit” to hear submissions at the Auckland University of Technology’s North Shore campus on Sunday.

Written submissions to the panel close today.

Rape Prevention Education survivor advocate Louise Nicholas said the summit was initiated by counsellors who were concerned that they could no longer help many of the victims of sexual crimes who came to them.

“It’s inhumane what’s going on,” she said.

“The good thing about it is that this review panel want to attend the summit so they can talk to survivors face to face. We are looking at anywhere between 100 and 300 people if not more.”

The new rules restrict ACC counselling to victims who have “a diagnosed mental injury resulting from sexual abuse or assault”.

ACC claims manager Denise Cosgrove said this was laid down by law, but ACC was for many years “acting beyond its mandate and providing services to people not covered by its legislation”.

She said almost half (46 per cent) of the claims rejected in the six months to April came through a new emergency health service for sexual abuse victims and were declined “because at the time of lodgement for most people there is no mental injury, only an acute event”.

Other claims were rejected because the client decided not to accept help (18 per cent), did not provide enough information (18 per cent), had “no new or clear mental injury” (7 per cent), the mental injury was not clearly due to the sexual abuse (6 per cent) or the sexual abuse was not established (4 per cent).

The Psychotherapists’ Association representative on the ACC’s sensitive claims advisory group, Kyle MacDonald, said even where a victim had been diagnosed with a mental illness, it was often difficult to pin the illness solely to being raped or sexually abused.

“With childhood sexual abuse where there may be a 20-year or 30-year delay between abuse and presentation [for help], ultimately you can always find a reason to decline claims if you look hard enough,” he said.

Counsellors’ Association representative Elayne Johnston said ACC assessors did not seem to realise being raped was different from breaking a leg. “We’re talking about people who’ve had a crime committed on them,” she said.

Dr Barbara Disley, the former Mental Health Commission head who leads the four-person review panel, said the panel had met several professional associations and planned further meetings next week.

She said the panel hoped to report back to Dr Smith by July 31.

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