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Sex abuse crisis service set to close

By Michael Cropp and Georgia Weaver for The Press

Christchurch’s only 24-hour sexual violence support service may have to shut its doors because of a $23,000 shortfall.

The Survivors of Sexual Violence Trust (SSVT), which operates crisis service SafeCare, fields daily referrals from police and has 16 clients in its specialised sexual violence counselling and a further 30 on a waiting list.

Trust board vice-president Olwyn Palmer said its contract with Child, Youth and Family ended three months ago – a year early – to address policies and procedures and it was waiting for re-accreditation as a government-funded provider.

During that time, it had been unable to plug its funding gap.

If the trust did not find enough money by the end of the week, it would go into recess and lose its counselling staff, buildings and clients, Palmer said.

The trust was caught in a catch-22 as its usual philanthropic funders believed it would get money from a new government funding pool, she said.

Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett announced $10.4 million in new funding for sexual violence support services in this year’s budget but few of Christchurch’s services are eligible.

Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust manager Ken Clearwater said SSVT’s application for accreditation should be fast-tracked as it provided essential trauma counselling support.

Detective Inspector Greg Mehrtens, who oversees the police’s adult sexual assault team, said it was critical police had counsellors on hand for victims.

“We have been assured that there will be no gap in the provision of service, so I have to trust [the Ministry of Social Development] on that.”

The Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust was bailed out by MSD in December to prevent it from shutting down but SSVT is not eligible for similar emergency funding or a share of the new $10.4m fund until it is re-accredited.

When questioned about the issue in Parliament yesterday, Bennett said ministry officials had been working with the SSVT.

“We are very keen to see them stay open but when there are issues with the provider, we have a responsibility accounting-wise and auditing-wise to taxpayers.”

Another long-standing counselling service, Rata, may have to reduce its services if it cannot find $50,000 by tomorrow.

Funding manager Kathy Harris said funding shortages were not unusual but this time “it was really bad”.

Clare Healy, spokeswoman for the Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care group, was unsure how it would continue without the support of other agencies.

MSD service development general manager Ruth Palmer said it was working with local groups on a 24/7 crisis response in Christchurch and was only one of several government and non-government agencies providing funding for sexual violence services.

The ministry had funded SSVT until last October, when it ceased to be an approved provider. Any new funding would depend on the trust regaining approved status.