Speaking Secrets: Sexual abuse services bracing for influx

This article is based on extracts from the Speaking Secrets podcast, a co-production by NZ Herald and Newstalk ZB. You can subscribe to Speaking Secrets on iHeartRadio and iTunes.

Police, courts and sexual abuse help agencies are starting to experience a surge in reported cases as the #MeToo movement encourages survivors to come forward.

The trend has emerged in a series of interviews conducted for a New Zealand Herald-Newstalk ZB podcast series, Speaking Secrets, which explores the global campaign against sexual abuse and harassment in New Zealand.

The series, which starts today, has discovered cautious optimism about the newfound ability of victims to speak out, mixed with concern that agencies and institutions will be swamped by the growing number of cases.

Examples of the changing social climate include:

• Wellington police doubled the number of sex case investigators last August, just before the #MeToo movement began.

• Nearly all district court trial judges are expected to be trained in dealing more sensitively with sex abuse survivors by early next year.

• A Wellington charity supporting male survivors of sexual abuse doubled its caseload last year and expects to do the same this year.

Detective Sergeant Ben Quinn said the number of investigators in Wellington had increased from five to 10 and one supervisor was bumped up to two.

“If the MeToo movement continues and people continue to talk – which I hope they will – and they develop trust and confidence in us and other services, then demand’s going to increase and we’re going to have to meet it.”

Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said she expected almost all district court trial judges would have completed a sexual violence pilot court judicial education programme by February next year.

Former teacher aide Hester Tingey talks about how she felt after boys in her class filmed up her dress in the New Zealand Herald-Newstalk ZB podcast Speaking Secrets. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Former teacher aide Hester Tingey talks about how she felt after boys in her class filmed up her dress in the New Zealand Herald-Newstalk ZB podcast Speaking Secrets. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

“Everyone involved benefits if we are providing a gentler process for the people who are brave enough to come forward.”

Mosaic, a Wellington-based charity supporting male survivors of sexual abuse, has been preparing for a surge of cases when the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care begins hearings.

Chief executive Richard Jeffrey said, based on disclosures in Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the organisation’s annual caseload could be triple the expected number for this year.

“We could be swamped and that’s realistic, it could be just so many who see this opportunity that they will take advantage of it.”

In 2017 Mosaic recorded 58 disclosures to its organisation, which is more than twice as many as in 2016. Jeffrey said as of mid-June 2018 the charity had 45 disclosures meaning they were on track for about 100 cases this year.

Journalist Georgina Campbell, host and producer of the podcast series Speaking Secrets. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Journalist Georgina Campbell, host and producer of the podcast series Speaking Secrets. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Speaking Secrets series also found that while the downfall of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo campaign that followed had encouraged women and men to speak up about sexual abuse and harassment, the movement seemed to tap into an existing mood for change.

NZME journalist Georgina Campbell, who produced and hosted the podcast, said she wanted New Zealand’s experience of the #MeToo movement to be about more than flitting from one scandal to the next.

She said survivors of sexual abuse and harassment often found it hard to share their story for fear of being pitied or judged, destroying their careers or upsetting loved ones. Yet many did so because they felt if they did not speak out, perhaps no one would.

Some told their story through the media but many others spoke out in a different way by telling friends, family, helplines or police.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson during her interview for the Speaking Secrets series. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson during her interview for the Speaking Secrets series. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson is one of several survivors to speak openly in the series. She has given her first full interview on the sexual abuse she suffered as a young girl, after identifying herself as a victim in Parliament.

Other interviews include a former naval officer taking the Defence Force to court following her alleged rape, a man who says he and his classmates were sexually assaulted by Marist Brothers at a Catholic school and a teacher aide who was left traumatised when boys in her class filmed up her skirt.

In the podcast Louise Nicholas said she still gets stopped in the street by fellow survivors after one of the most public rape trials in New Zealand’s history.

She said education is a huge part of allowing people to talk.

“It’s like giving permission for our children to say ‘me too’ as well.”

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