What change can improve the sexual violence support sector to better assist
victims to engage with the justice system?
Function one: coordination of services and strong cross-organisational relationships
between both government and community service providers
11.9As we have noted, a large number of often disparate agencies and organisations have contact with victims of sexual violence and greater coordination of both the services provided and those providing the services is needed.
11.10Failures in coordination can negatively impact on a victim’s ability to access information that is timely, accurate, and comprehensive and that permits the victim to make informed decisions. As noted by Elaine Mossman, in the aftermath of sexual violence, victims “will be interacting with institutions and systems oriented towards professional control and procedural efficiency at a time when the victim/survivor is struggling…to regain a sense of autonomy and personal agency”, which can result in victims “feeling controlled and subordinated” rather than informed and supported.
11.11At a practical level, to support a victim service providers should work together to remove obstacles and barriers to victims accessing help, which can drain the energy, will and resources that are needed for the victim to heal and to prepare for entering into the justice system. This is happening in certain contexts and certain centres, for example many Sexual Abuse Assessment & Treatment Services (SAATS) centres have made significant progress in the nature and wraparound quality of support provided to victims. However, this type of assistance is neither consistently nor comprehensively available.
11.12Coordinated services are needed to help guide victims from crisis survival to being willing and able to make decisions and partake in the justice system. Strengthening the victim is important because, as it stands, there are many aspects of the criminal justice system that weaken victims.
11.13In addition, victims are at risk of secondary victimisation when they are unable to access help for their unique support and service needs. To the extent that a victim does not feel supported by (or at worst is traumatised as a result of having engaged with) the social and governmental support services in the immediate aftermath of sexual violence, the victim is likely to feel less prepared to engage in the justice system. Access problems relate to geographic coverage, a lack of specialist services, inconsistent follow-through, and an absence of clear signposts for victims telling them how to access the help needed.
11.14Following the trauma of sexual violence, victims are required to not only assimilate what has physically happened to them, they are then required to mobilise and seek assistance and to process large volumes of information about options, processes and how to access various forms of help.
11.15Without a clear and coordinated strategy to respond to victims’ support and service needs in a timely manner, there is the risk that tasks such as collecting evidence take priority over the victim’s individual support and service needs. In its report on submissions to the inquiry into funding of sexual violence services, the Ministry of Social Development agreed that “specialist sexual violence service delivery is currently fragmented. The impact of which is that those affected by sexual violence do not necessarily experience a joined-up and wrapped-around approach that addresses all presenting issues, and includes family, whānau and other support people”.
11.16Failures in coordination have led to significant gaps in the services being made available to victims. However, we consider that these gaps (and failures in coordination) do not appear related to the number of support services already in existence (with the exception of a need for greater coverage in rural areas). Indeed the current service provider community is large and has invaluable and irreplaceable institutional knowledge.
11.17Instead we consider that the lack of coordination is a consequence of, firstly, significant pressures on time and finances faced by service providers which limit their ability to enter into dialogue with other service providers; secondly, the increasing demand on services (including that understanding and responding to the nuances of sexual violence and the varied support and service needs of victims absorbs considerable resources) and thirdly, the lack of a leadership body to undertake a coordinating role.
11.18There is an opportunity for an independent body to assist community and government service providers to effectively carry out their functions. We believe that some form of high-level coordination is needed to support service providers in ensuring victims’ support and service needs are met and to promote integration of services where possible. This does not necessarily mean physical integration; it can instead refer to greater awareness of what each body (governmental and community based) does in the relevant region and the ability to refer victims to the appropriate service provider at the appropriate time. There would need to be a two-stage process: firstly to audit the sector to identify where there are gaps in service provision; and secondly to determine how these gaps can be collaboratively addressed.
11.19The ideal would be for a lead body to support the service providers to ensure that victims of sexual violence are able to easily access help as soon as possible after the violence has occurred, by way of face-to-face contact (if desired) with a support person assigned to the victim. That support person would be trained and educated to deal with sexual violence victims; would have knowledge of the entire path that the victim will have to travel, including medical and legal concerns; would be able to make the necessary referrals across sectors and providers; and would remain available to the victim throughout the days, weeks and months following sexual violence. In Part B we recommend the extension of the role of the specialist victim advisers who currently support victims of sexual violence at court. Their role could be extended in this way.
11.20Even if the expanded adviser model is not possible, we would still recommend that a lead body be established that would have full knowledge of all parties in the sector and what they do, and that would serve as both a repository and a conduit for that information. The body would seek to reduce the barriers to victims accessing services, for example by providing an 0800 phone number that is staffed 24/7 and that can refer the person phoning (be it a victim, family member or another service provider) to the appropriate service provider/s. (This could also reduce the resource cost of service providers who currently operate 0800 facilities, though consultation with the sector would be needed before existing 0800 numbers were combined). This body would need to know what each service provider did, where, and within what limitations (for instance location, time and available resources, or being specialised to a particular cohort such as male victims). The ability to provide answers and information to victims when requested, in a timely and accurate manner, is crucial to improving victim experience. In addition, the body would be enabled to facilitate communication and consultation between the relevant parties, for example by developing protocols to enable service providers to work together. Formal agreements or protocols would seek to maximise service provision by organising services to communicate and work together, rather than taking power away from service providers.
11.21In our opinion, service providers should continue their work in accordance with their self-identified limitations and ideologies. At the same time we believe that all services need to be centrally co-ordinated by a lead coordinating body (which as described above requires the sharing of information about services offered and cooperating to meet any gaps in service provision).
11.22Both community and government service providers would need to link their services through designated and coordinated service streams (that relate to location, service provided and the support and service needs met). This would allow service providers to create a care-plan tailored to the current and future support and service needs of each victim, allowing referrals amongst service providers and thereby encouraging services to be delivered effectively and efficiently (for the benefit of both victims and service providers).
11.23Coordination is needed to ensure the system is working effectively and not at cross-purposes. An effective sexual violence support sector would provide enhanced and streamlined access to medical, social/therapeutic and legal services for all victims, including those victims who are currently under-represented in terms of accessing support services and entering the criminal justice system. There will always be some victims who choose not to enter into any form of justice mechanism in order to address their justice needs, but a coordinated support sector will at least ensure these victims receive the assistance they need to meet their support and service needs.
11.24We understand that some victims currently do not engage with the justice system because their survival needs are not being met. Greater coordination of the support sector could improve the provision of support services, assisting more victims into a position where they are willing and able to engage with the justice system.
Tasks for government
- Audit the sector to identify what services are operating and where they are operating (in order to prevent doubling up of services); address any gaps in service provision (for example due to geographic location); ensure services are sign-posted to victims; and identify gaps in types of services in consultation with the sector (for example identify funding to ensure a LGBTI-friendly (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) facility).
- Coordinate the support service sector with the goal that as many victims as possible receive timely and ongoing support after an incident of sexual violence including medical, social/therapeutic and legal assistance.
- Exercise leadership through consultation, collaboration, communication, cooperation and innovation to bring about seamless delivery of support services to victims (that includes, where appropriate, medical, social/therapeutic and legal support).
- Continue to consider the most suitable service delivery models for different parts of New Zealand, taking into account the following:
- A one-stop-shop model might be appropriate for areas such as a larger metropolitan centre where there are several hospitals in which such a service could be located. Alternatively SAATS centres could be supported and resourced to provide more comprehensive support to victims.
- Consider whether consultation is required to determine if a centralised 0800 number to direct victims to the relevant support service is an effective tool for coordinating and presenting a seamless service delivery.