Victim-survivors of sexual violence don’t want to talk about what’s happened to them, so it is critical they can safely tell their story once, and once only, to get the immediate help and ongoing support they need.
“The first door they knock on has to be the right door,” says Dr Kate Taylor, Trust Chair of the Midlands Sexual Assault Support Service (MSASS).
“Victim-Survivors don’t have the capacity to advocate for themselves, you can’t send them elsewhere, they won’t make a second call. Our service ensures they get support, without having to repeat themselves.”
The need for MSASS services is significant - sexual violence is much more prevalent than most people believe. The most recent New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey says that 78,000 adults, some 1.9% of the adult population, one in fifty, had been subjected to sexual violence in the last year.
The percentages are even higher for some population groups, particularly young women, and these numbers don’t include children and youth. The overall rate of victimhood is not believed to be growing but the numbers seeking help is steadily increasing.
“The numbers suggest there cannot be one person in this country who does not know someone affected, whether we’re aware of it or not,” says Simone Molenaar, the Chief Vision Officer at MSASS.
“Nine out of ten people we talk to respond with a story of sexual assault. Less than ten per cent report it, and the most impacted groups are wholly underrepresented.”
“It is so common and yet hidden away because of shame and secrecy, people don’t know how many people they know are victim-survivors,” says Simone.
Shame should hang upon the perpetrator of sexual violence, but more often sits with the victim-survivor, creating an inter-generational cycle, particularly in families.
“If you walk through our door at Midlands Sexual Assault Support Service, it is no reflection on you, have no qualms about asking for help, you have come to the right door,” says Kate.
“The culture has to change, an end to the secrecy. That’s why we’re increasing the visibility of the Service to the public, having previously been a bit incognito.
“We are a safe place for everybody. Our values are professional excellence, purpose-filled connection, to be trusted and to deliver a reliable service.”
Simone says two-way collaboration with a range of organisations is critical to the work of the MSASS. The NZ Police, Women’s Refuge, Male Support Services Waikato, the Sexual Assault Assessment and Treatment Service, K’aute Pasifika, Shama, Child Matters, Parent Line and Barnardo’s are amongst the groups they foster relationships with.
MSASS commits to seeing anyone, regardless of age, despite the fact that it is not funded to support anyone under 18, even though over a third of their clients are children and young people.
This alone points to the vulnerability of the Service’s financial support, which currently comes from various arms of government and is therefore subject to the ebb-and-flow of political priorities, in a time when events like cyclones are putting pressure on budgets.
“We are delivering way more than we’re funded to,” says Kate, “and we are not meeting the demand now, so we need to grow, diversify and secure our funding.”
With this eye to the long term, the MSASS trust has established a philanthropic investment fund with Momentum Waikato, founded with its own reserve funds and now open to public donations and bequests.
“The investment income from the new Midlands Sexual Assault Support Service Fund at Momentum Waikato will go into sustaining and expanding our ability to help victim-survivors of sexual violence,” says Kate.
“We therefore very much welcome any donations that can help us grow the Fund as a critical long-term funding strategy.”
Momentum Waikato Chief Executive Kelvyn Eglinton says it is humbling to partner with such a trusted and professional organisation.
“The Midlands Sexual Assault Support Service is on the front line in our community, tackling the most insidious scourge in our society, it is critical that it has sustainable funding, so Momentum is proud to play a role in building its resilience.”
Donations to the Midlands Sexual Assault Support Service Fund can be made via momentumwaikato.nz/donate.