Why won't the government support sexual assault services funding?

Today Abigail grilled the Minister for Women's Safety about funding the Sexual Violence Helpline and NSW Health Sexual Assault Services, so that every victim-survivor who wants support can access it when they seek it.


Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (12:28): 

I direct my question to the Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence. I refer to yesterday's ABC News and 7.30 reports that amid record numbers of sexual assault reports, one in three calls to the Sexual Violence Helpline go unanswered and victim‑survivors are waiting between six and 12 months to access support through the Sexual Assault Services run out of New South Wales hospitals because they are chronically underfunded. Will the Minister commit to funding the Sexual Violence Helpline and NSW Health Sexual Assault Services so that every victim-survivor who wants support can access it when they seek it?


The Hon. NATALIE WARD (Minister for Metropolitan Roads, and Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence) (12:28): 

I thank Ms Abigail Boyd for her question and for her on going interest and advocacy in this important area. I reiterate that it is my great privilege to serve as the Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence. This Government is committed to preventing sexual violence, improving outcomes for victim-survivors and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. The Perrottet Government is committed to addressing sexual violence specifically. That is why we have a specific Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence. What is clear, and I think we all agree, is that one sexual assault is too many. Behind every one of those statistics and incidents—those that are reported—is a person. NSW Health provides specialist sexual assault services in every local health district across New South Wales. The services operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and New South Wales police and NSW Health work closely together to provide a coordinated response to victim‑survivors.

NSW Health provides funding to Full Stop Australia for the delivery of the NSW Sexual Violence Helpline. While Health is obviously not my portfolio, my interest lies in the provision of that helpline and supporting that helpline. It also provides funding for the online counselling service for anyone in New South Wales who has experienced sexual assault, along with their supporters. NSW Health also funds Full Stop Australia to deliver community-based counselling services at women's health centres across New South Wales for women who experienced sexual assault in childhood. The NSW Sexual Violence Helpline is part of a broader 24/7 telephone counselling service offered by Full Stop Australia to people who live in New South Wales and in other States. I commend Full Stop Australia for its work in that area.

In the 2020-21 budget Full Stop Australia received $1,546,500 of funding for the NSW Sexual Violence Helpline from NSW Health, and that was administered through the Sydney Local Health District. The service cost of the helpline for 2020-21 is $2,470,201. In addition, $20 million of Commonwealth funding has been invested in domestic and family violence services in New South Wales under the first tranche of the Domestic and Family Violence National Partnership Agreement 2021-23. More than half of that first payment was used to bolster existing frontline domestic and sexual violence services, which experienced significantly increased demand during the COVID pandemic. The second round of those NPA recipients is expected to be announced shortly.


Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (12:31): 

I ask a supplementary question. I refrained from taking a point of order because I do not think it was necessarily directly relevant. In any event, in the Minister's response she mentioned that the Government is—I am not sure if she used the word "proud"—running a coordinated response to victim‑survivors. Will the Minister elucidate on that answer as to how a coordinated response to victim-survivors could still leave one in three callers to sexual assault hotlines going unanswered? Will the Minister commit to funding those services so that every call is answered?


The Hon. NATALIE WARD (Minister for Metropolitan Roads, and Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence) (12:32): 

This is a government committed to providing funding to those services. That is exactly what we do. We have a Minister who has a dedicated portfolio, as I have the privilege of having that responsibility as the Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence. I am happy to inform the House of the funding that is in place. Certainly, under the national partnership agreement, we will be looking to extend that in the second round, which will be announced shortly. Under that second round, I am hopeful there will be additional services that can support those wraparound services and the coordination of police with Health and providing that support across the board to those victim-survivors who are brave enough to come forward and report—and we know so many of them do not. We want to encourage them to do so and to approach that through police and the range of services that are, as I said, available 24/7. In relation to the member's specific question about funding, we will have more to say about that shortly.

The full transcript can be found in Hansard, here.

 

After this disappointing response from the Minister, Abigail took note of the Minister's answer in Hansard. The take note is as below. 

Abigail said:

I take note of the Minister's answer to my question about funding for sexual violence services. From the #MeToo movement's take-off in 2017 to the reckoning that politics in this country faced last year with March4Justice, Grace Tame's appointment as Australian of the Year and the movement for consent education in schools, sexual violence in this country has been consistently in the spotlight for years now. While that is indisputably a good thing, it also means that it can be virtually impossible for victim‑survivors to escape triggers. Reports to the police about sexually violent crimes are increasing by 21 per cent year on year and specialised counselling services are experiencing incredibly high demand, as victim‑survivors seek support for both recent and historical sexual violence.

The Sexual Violence Helpline, previously known as the Rape Crisis Line, receives from the New South Wales Government less than half of the funding it needs to operate its 24/7 helpline and has to rely on charitable donations to make up what it can, with one in three calls still going unanswered. The 20 women's health centres across this State that operate physical and mental health services, as well as safety and trauma recovery services, have not received funding increases that have kept pace with CPI for the past 30 years. They are forced to cut costs year on year while demand increases. The sexual assault services run by NSW Health in every local health district have counselling wait times of between six and 12 months. Meanwhile, the New South Wales Government changed the eligibility criteria for Victims Services support a couple of years ago, making it harder to access ongoing counselling and financial support for violent crimes including sexual assault.

Coming forward to seek help about sexual assault is incredibly hard. As a society we still shame and victim‑blame survivors who share their stories, and victim-survivors know that the police and judicial systems so often deliver unjust and re-traumatising outcomes. In the face of all of that, there is no alternative to ensuring every single person who seeks counselling and support for sexual violence can access it when they want it. But this Government, with its weasel words of how it cares about and is committed to women's safety while it chronically underfunds every sexual violence service in the State, is setting victim-survivors up with the unrealistic expectation that they will be able to get the support they deserve. The truth of the matter is that every call that is unanswered and every victim-survivor who is turned away or who goes onto a months-long waitlist is a failure that falls squarely on the shoulders of this New South Wales Government. We ask this Government to do better.

The full transcript can be found in Hansard, here.

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