So responsibility for responding to, and presumably preventing, sexual violence will apparently now sit with the Ministry of Social Development. Welcome news it’s in one place, hopefully setting up best practise services adequately funded all over Aotearoa New Zealand, for the first time.
So let’s try what a serious blueprint for that might look like, just in case Minister Bennett and MSD need some ideas. Funding survivor agencies, they could do worse than look at the Everyone Needs the Right Help campaign, currently holding launches all over the country as communities ask:
There are whole groups of people in New Zealand without access to the support they and their family or friends need to recover from sexual violence.
One in four girls, one in ten boys, one in two trans* people and up to 90% of people with disabilities are likely to be victims of sexual abuse/rape in New Zealand. They all need help.
Research shows the earlier survivors are able to access specialist support to recover from sexual violence, the better at managing the traumatic impacts they become. Adequately funded survivor services all over New Zealand is not only the ethically right thing to do, it will also have real impacts in our communities in terms of well-being. This means people being able to call a 24 hour helpline. This means having advocacy and counselling available as and when it is needed. This means specialist knowledge to understand, mitigate and explain the complex impacts of trauma.
Turning to working with people who cause sexual harm, we have strong evidence that early intervention in sexual offending works, and given adolescence is a trigger period for sexual offending, it should be a priority for us. Just 2% of adolescents who completed a treatment programme sexually re-offended in a 2007 evaluation. The younger the adolescent, the more likely they were to complete the programme.
We also know the vast majority of people who cause sexual harm will never end up in the justice system, so community treatment alternatives are critical. Adequate funding for community programmes to which people – mostly men, as we know 99% of those perpetrating sexual offences against adults are men – can self-refer could make a huge difference to re-offending.
And then there is prevention. Imagine if we were not just having to respond to the preventable tragedies that are incidents of sexual violence. Imagine if every child in New Zealand was brought up knowing they had safe adults they could tell if anyone did anything to them that was abusive, and knowing that they got to decide who touched their body. Imagine if our schools were required to promote effective anti-bullying programmes which targetted in particular homophobic and sexist bullying (linked to later perpetration of sexual harassment). Imagine if our sexual and relationships education focused on developing and sustaining encounters and relationships where mutual respect was the base value. And imagine if enthusiastic participation was something our culture expected from every sexual encounter, not a lack of a screamed “No” signalling good enough consent.
Minister Bennett, this is a good deal for you. You cannot possibly do worse than the last twenty years of governance in our communities when it comes to preventing and responding to sexual violence. You could certainly do a whole lot better.