Specialist sexual assault services providing crisis support have existed in New Zealand since the 1970s when a number of Rape Crisis collectives were established. Groups of women developed collectives to meet the needs of survivors of sexual violence as negative societal attitudes to survivors were not conducive to good treatment by services, communities or often even families. This was of particular concern given the high impacts of sexual violence and resulting vulnerability of many survivors thereafter. While societal attitudes have changed to a degree, a high incidence of sexual violence and high impacts on survivors have not changed. Quality of service responses has improved in line with changes in societal attitudes, but not sufficiently to ensure that survivors are not further harmed by contact with services.
In July 2007, in response to public pressure in the wake of what has come to be known as the Louise Nicholas trial (R v Rickards, Shipton and Schollum ) the New Zealand Government established The Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence to lead and coordinate efforts to address sexual violence, and advise Government on future actions. This Taskforce was somewhat unique in that it was established as a partnership between Government and a sector body Te Ohaaki a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together (TOAH-NNEST), a bi- cultural umbrella group for those working in the sector, particularly the specialist community service providers. This group aims to promote social, political and institutional change so that all people can live free of sexual violence and its effects.
One of the six priority areas for the Taskforce to address was early intervention and crisis response to acute and chronic sexual abuse and assault, looking to an outcome of impact of sexual violence is reduced and survivors are supported. The sector believed that our grass roots practice was effective, but we needed to be able to demonstrate the evidence base for this. Negotiations with the Ministry of Social Development led to funding for a project to develop a framework for best practice by mainstream services in responding to acute needs of survivors of sexual assault, which resulted in the first good practice guidelines – Mainstream Crisis Support Services Responding to Sexual Violence Perpetrated Against Adults. Round 1. (Evidence Section)
We were well placed to undertake this project at the time due a number of factors:
the development of Te Ohaaki a Hine National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together, a national organisation which includes both Nga Whiitiiki Whanau Ahuru Mowai o Aotearoa / The National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa Incorporated and other groups,
- the development of research and theory from the trauma field which was validating practices which were developed in this grass roots movement, such as, the importance of working at the client’s pace,
- the importance of the relationship and the importance of honouring the adaptations a survivor made to living with experience of abuse
- the review Responding to Adult Survivors of Sexual Violence: A Review of Literature on Good Practice commissioned by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and
- the 2009 stocktake and visioning process by specialist crisis support services which identified shared values in the work across the sector.
This all combined to provide us with a good opportunity to develop shared and multiply informed ideas about what best practice might be in the delivery of crisis support services.