Hundreds of people will be starting their decent on Auckland later today to attend the first national summit for 'Survivors of Sexual Abuse.' The aim is to bring survivors together for networking, inspiration, and alternative recovery pathways as a result of the New Zealand government changing the conditions under which survivors were able to receive counselling, leaving up to 95% of survivors unable to access skilled professional help.
In short and for those not in the know, sexual abuse survivors access counselling through what is called Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). It's a government organisation and funded by levies paid by tax payers. In other words, it's an insurance company where levies replace premiums but a company none the less with customer care policies and legislation ensuring the minimum standard of care is afforded clients. Now, it's that last bit of that sentence that has caused a major uproar in New Zealand because, quite frankly, there is no standard of care or due diligence any longer - as a result, thousands of claims have been rejected and several sexual abuse victims have taken their own lives, some remain on suicide watch.
The irony is, if ACC was a private company even the Government would have come down hard on them for the "inhumane" changes made to their claims department. Sadly, it's the Government itself that is pushing those "money saving" changes through and, as with any issue even mildly connected to anything political, any policy reversal is demeaning, time-consuming, and painstakingly slow.
Last year, people took to the streets - the clever ones. The ones that actually understood the changes before the general public even knew they were being enforced. As a result, the Media portrayed the protesters as a small bunch of disgruntled diehards that had nothing better to do with their lives. What we didn't know and would never know unless you walked through the valley of ACC's grim claim's department was women, men, and even children (who are supposed to be top priority) were being turned away from even the basic forms of counselling. The unbelievable drop in approved claims (95%) is irrefutable proof that someone's not playing ball.
Not wanting to ruin public opinion at the next general election, ACC Minister Nick Smith, stood like a Medusa in headlights and fronted up to Media to announce an immediate review of the current policy, so as to look like some belated hero. This "immediate" action came in the form of supporting an independent review panel to look over what he already knew was crap and it came as immediate as six months down the track.
The deadline for submissions - letters from victims, advice and suggestions from some of New Zealand's leading psychotherapists, counsellors, clinical psychologists, nurses, and Mental Health officials - was June 18th. I don't envy the review panel who have to sift through all these submissions especially as they really only had about a month to get their act together. I know. I said they had six months right? Wrong. It was only about a month ago that Nick Smith even thought that perhaps an address or even an email might assist with people wanting to submit a grievance and/or suggestion. He pussy-footed around so much that the review panel and some of the members of SOSA decided, to hell with it, we'll start our own email address and then we'll spam the world if need be to get those victims heard.
The summit is timely. It comes the day after the submissions deadline. Hopefully, it will be a time for all those attending to sit back, relax, network, and pat themselves on the back for having achieved the impossible. There is a review panel. They have numerous submissions from all walks of life and now they have a gathering of like minded people who will, no doubt, add the finishing touches to any 'suggestions' recommended.
With any luck, Nick Smith might actually take these recommendations seriously. With any luck, he won't repeat the "inhumane" pilfering of their report like ACC did to the initial Government funded research conducted by Massey University. With any luck and unlike ACC, he will look through the whole review panel's suggestions as a complete document, a complete proposal and conclude, like we have already done, that the changes made to ACC's sexual abuse claims procedures were and are, grossly negligent. With any luck, he will thank his lucky stars that ACC is a Government organisation and as such, cannot be sued. And, with any luck, he will make an effort to humbly visit the graves of those re-traumatised victims that never made it and apologise to those who still hold on by the skin of their teeth. That is the least he could do.