Wellington sexual assault victim told wait for ACC therapy could ‘near nine months’

A Wellington student has been left stunned after being told the wait list for ACC-funded sexual assault counselling could be nearing nine months long.

The woman, who the Herald has agreed not to name, said she contacted ACC after being sexually assaulted in the Capital recently.

She was initially told the waiting period could be “several months long” and when she inquired further, she was told this could look more like “nearer” nine months.

Although she didn’t blame anyone, the woman said she was disappointed and disheartened about the situation.

“I think it is very unacceptable, but it is the reality for so many people.”

Email correspondence seen by the Herald confirms the woman was told the “[they] have a very long waiting list in Wellington at the moment, lasting several months”, and was later told this would be “nearer” nine months.

Thursday’s in Black national coordinator Jahla Lawrence said sadly, the woman’s experience is common, especially among young people.

“I think it’s really indicative of just a wider issue relating to under-resourcing and under-funding, and a lack of prioritisation of survivors.”

She said in general sexual violence was viewed as a woman’s issue and was therefore not treated as a social problem that affects everybody.

Chief customer officer at ACC, Emma Powell, said since 2014 the number of claims it has received from survivors has more than doubled.

“While we have more than doubled the number of therapists we work with over that time, we have not been able to meet the growing demand for support.”

Powell acknowledged the wait times some survivors were facing when they seek support through ACC, and said they were trying to reduce them.

“Our latest data suggests an average eight week wait time in Wellington compared to a national average of just under seven weeks. This will vary by individual therapists.”

Without knowing the details of the woman’s case, ACC said it can only speak to the data it has on wait times.

Powell said trauma therapy for sexual violence is a highly skilled profession that requires years of study and work experience.

“It is also important a survivor can access a therapist they trust, including any preference they may have such as gender or cultural expertise. Wait times to access therapy are a symptom of pressure across the entire mental health system, an issue both nationally and internationally.”

Covid-19 restrictions also placed additional stress on the system and during last year’s level 4 lockdown, therapists said many of their clients experienced increased anxiety, which impacted their rehabilitation and extended the time they need to be in counselling, reducing their capacity to take on new clients.

To improve the current wait times Powell said ACC has enabled therapists to use tele health to deliver counselling where appropriate for existing clients and made improvements to the Find Support website.

“In addition to providing support to survivors, ACC is investing more than $9 million a year into sexual violence injury prevention initiatives. We are also actively involved in cross-government efforts to reduce family and sexual violence, including the Joint Venture for Family Violence and Sexual Violence.”

Lawrence said the biggest thing she would pass on to survivors in similar positions was that they are not alone.

“There are people that care about them. There are people that understand what they’re going through and are there to give them support.”

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