Sunday, 18 October 2009

On ACC...

When writing about my analysis of sexual violence and prisons, one of the points I keep coming back to is how centred it is on the perpertrator. It's not a new or original thought to point out that everything about the way a criminal law system deals with sexual violence is entirely focused on 'the offender'. The follow-on from this is our society's way of dealing with sexual violence revolves around the court system.

A few year ago, I wrote about a nursing student, who was raped by a fellow student, after a typical, ridiculous, defence, the rapist got off. She had to drop out of school, because the school wouldn't do anything to ensure she wouldn't have to see her rapist regularly. I think it's important to understand how structural the problems within our justice system are. These systems are not designed to support survivors of sexual abuse, and therefore they will always fail at that task.


But, in New Zealand, we do have a system that is set up to meet, to revolve around, what survivors of sexual violence need. There are many things it cannot provide - ACC will not help student find a way to continue to study without seeing her rapist. But it can provide counselling and income support.

I don't have any personal experience, or depth of knowledge, of ACCs sensitive claims system. I am sure, as it currently operates, it has flaws, and some people fail to get the help that they need. But, at the moment, it can be centred around what a survivor needs, based on her relationship with her counsellor (or his).

If these changes go through, it will be much harder, maybe impossible for ACC to be survivor-centre. Currently, a survivor can have up to four sessions of counselling to disclose their abuse, but the changes will cut this down to one session (or maybe two, Peter Jensen, the person in charge of the proposal, was unclear on nine to noon).

At the moment a survivor can access up to 50 sessions with a counsellor before they have to obtain a psychological assessment. The changes will require psychological assessments much earlier in the process, and that process will be directed much more by clinicians. In order to get funded counselling, a survivor of sexual abuse will require a DSM IV diagnosis.

This is not a survivor-centred approach to sexual abuse; it is a clinician-centred approach.

ACC has already begun tightening the screws. And in doing so it has turned funded counselling into another area where a survivor has to prove her (or his) experience – maybe not beyond reasonable doubt, but close.

Dr Kim McGregor explained how ACC restricts access to counselling on an interview on 9 to Noon 9 to Noon. ACC declined cover for a young boy who had been sexually abused as the behaviour described: mood swings, tearfulness, and sitting alone sucking his thumb, did not necessarily have a clinical link with sexual abuse. They said these behaviours could just as well have been caused by settling into school and a new environment rather than the sexual abuse events.

Imagine the difficulty of someone who has survived sexual abuse will have in proving that the difficulties she (or he) is experiencing are directly and only a result of the abuse. Those who had what insurance companies call ‘pre-existing conditions’, could find support denied – if they had previously been depressed, how can they know that depression after the sexual abuse is a result of that abuse? (not a question that could be asked by anyone who cared about the experiences of survivors of sexual abuse, but a question that is being asked by ACC). While those who do not seek help for a long time, will have to prove the effects the abuse has had on them, and the more complex their survival strategies in the intervening time, the harder it will be for them to access the support they need.

The parallels between the perfect victim of the court system and the perfect survivor of ACC are strong. In both cases the onus of proof falls on those have been abused to prove either that there was abuse, or that that abuse affected them. Just as previous sexual history is used against survivors in the court system, ACC can use previous mental health history against survivors.

My point is not just that the changes to ACC need to be fought (although they do – Monday is a national day of action – come along), but to show how important, and how fragile, a survivor centred approach to sexual violence there is.

As well as pushing against these threats to survivor support, I want us to push further. I want us to imagine what a response to sexual violence which prioritised survivors look like.


katy said...

Great post.

Cactus Kate said...

Being raped or a victim of sexual violence is not an "accident". It is insulting to suggest it is.

What? He "accidentally" penetrated the woman against her will?

We need to bring back the right to sue. Make the man pay for all this himself.

stargazer said...

um kate, it's already a criminal offense and we can't get the justice system to work for victims of sexual violence as it is. what makes you think it will work for a civil suit trying to claw back costs? and who is going to pay for all the legal costs? legal aid if you're very poor, but if not?

Anonymous said...

I was raped and I couldn't charge my husband. At the time, marital rape was not recognised in the UK - I think the law was changed in 1993. My sense of trust was demolished that night, I still struggle. I don't hate men, but I don't trust them. My way of getting even was very basic. I took every photo of our time together, negatives included, and disappeared to the other side of the world. Things still seem unfinished, however, and I seek counselling from time to time.

homepaddock said...

Kate is right. Rape and sexual violence aren't accidents. If victims require help it should be paid for from Welfare, Health and/or Justice budgets not ACC.

Anonymous said...

I have experience with the sensitive claims unit of acc - and frankly I owe my life to the fact that this service exists.
But - no, its not perfect, its not easy or a simple process - and psychologically; it is hard to give details of abuse, to open up and give detail for assessment when you don't know how or whom to trust.
The thought of it being cut back further, scares me - not just for me; (and I am still reliant on this service - i get counseling that in no other way could I get, but I hellishly need; I am so grateful for that), but this needs to be available for everyone. We need this.
Its sad but true.
Our mental health service is in no way equipped - too many people are hurt and need help; they need time, they need safety and the assurance that this burden they are carrying is not something they have to shoulder alone
- they need help that would not be available for them to even contemplate without this system. They need specialist care - are we really going to take that away?
This is a case of killing peter to save paul - the need does not go away because you make it harder to even contemplate asking for help. Please don't do this NZ. You are better than this.

Cactus Kate said...


The burdens of proof in criminal and civil matters differ. That is, it is easier to gain a conviction generally in civil cases than criminal ones.

The issue is like plenty of other matters - NOT an ACC one but has been lumped as so. Who pays and where is another story but rape and sexual attacks are not accidents.

stargazer said...

well, i'm sure that if someone shot you (and you survived) or if they beat you with a blunt instrument, you'd be covered. so i don't see why sexual assault shouldn't also be covered.

and just because the burden of proof in a civil trial is less, that doesn't make the process any easier at all. there will be the same victim-blaming and shaming, the same types of barriers that occur in a criminal trial. methinks kate that you are merely trying to create more income for lawyer in advocating a return to the kind of civil action that the ACC system was designed to avoid. it may be good for lawyers but it's certainly not good for society as a whole and most often not good for victims.

because, and i see you haven't addressed it, there is still the issue of who pays for the legal fees. and who is going to pay for the many more courts, judges and administrative staff to deal with the new cases. frankly, i'd rather have all that money spent on medical bills and income compensation for the victims.

Anonymous said...

If a drunk driver hits you you get ACC. If a person punches you in a bar brawl you get ACC. If you get knocked over by a gust of wind you get ACC cover.

None are accidents - but all need to be covered.

You're not being clever by saying rape isn't an accident. Everyone knows it's not an accident and nobody is saying it is.

And you have the nerve to say it's 'insulting' to suggest an accident.

Nobody has suggested it is. Stop trying to mask the issue with stupid slogans.

libertyscott said...

If you want to be covered you should purchase insurance, or if not have the right to sue to claim back damages for what someone has done to you.

Accidents are either the fault of another (who can be sued), the fault of oneself (you can insure against this, but really the incentive is to take more care), or a so-called "act of god" (you can insure against this).

In a socialised no-fault state monopoly "insurance" model such as ACC it faces the cost of covering accidents nobody should ever be compensated for, and then clawing back from those that people should sue for.

It is telling no other country has ACC, and only some have a system like it for motor vehicle accidents only.

stargazer said...

all it's "telling" of is that the insurance industry has such a hold in other countries that they are unable to implement the scheme we have.

having the "right to sue" doesn't mean you'll be able to access that right. it costs money, and legal aid criteria are veru tight. unlike in criminal cases, the crown will not be taking a case against the perpetrator, you'll have to fund it yourself. and it will take years to sort out.

private insurance? yeah, that's really working well in america. hoydens have highlighted a case where a baby of several months who was breastfed only was refused cover due to a prior condition of obesity! the fact is that it will be much harder to get compensation from private insurers, and the cost of cover will be higher.

Anonymous said...

"It is telling no other country has ACC"
Aussie has pretty much the exact same thing. Except there system is more expensive than ours.

Typical attitude of 'fuck everyone else I can afford insurance so who cares about those who can't'.

tussock said...

Please, guys. ACC legislation defines "accident" to mean any physical contact needing treatment, nothing to do with intent.

ACC-bashing may be flavour of the month again for team blue, but don't be lazy about it.

steven said...

"Kate is right. Rape and sexual violence aren't accidents. If victims require help it should be paid for from Welfare, Health and/or Justice budgets not ACC."

I agree with what Homepaddock said, apart from the bit about Kate being right.

I'd like to see a more coordinated approach for dealing with sexual abuse. The recovery process is something we all need to participate in. Starting with opening the curtains and letting the light of day onto the truth.

Sexual abuse thieves in secrecy. So its best we work toward an environment where disclosing personal experience openly, is acceptable. As it is, disclosing sexual abuse can clear a room, in a way not unlike declaring theater. I know, I've done it. Its like revealing a missing limb. Some people react angrily towards people that talking about experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Its a big ask I know, to talk about sexual abuse. Its uncomfortable, but not life threatening, as it can be for victims, that feel isolated by the lack of discourse. Sexual abuse trauma is complex. There are political dimensions to it. Feminism having a perspective, not the only perspective.

Lets talk.