Sexual assault crimes have increased by 110 percent over the past 25 years, but specialist counseling services say they cannot meet the demand.
Most important points:
Specialized support services are struggling due to an exponential increase in requests for help after sexual violence. A number of ‘black spots’ in Australia have no support services for sexual violence at all. Statistics from Full Stop Australia show its counselors are unable to respond to one in three calls to its hotline.
ABC’s 7.30 has been granted exclusive access to sexual assault clinic waiting lists nationwide, showing that wait times can be up to a year and a half.
In New South Wales, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital clinic in Sydney has a waiting list of six to 12 months, while Westmead Hospital in western Sydney currently has an eight-month waiting list.
It’s a six to nine-month wait for the Toowoomba service and a year and a half for some counseling programs at Laurel Place on the Sunshine Coast.
Specialized Sexual Violence Services in Tasmania have 140 people on waiting lists, and in Western Australia, the Allambee Sexual Violence Service has a waiting list of six to nine months.
Allambee Counseling chief Nicole Lambert told 07:30 that she and her team felt guilty about the long waits.
Nicole Lambert says there are unrealistic expectations about the supportive counseling services they can provide. (included)
“We say [to victim-survivors]: ‘Speak out; there is hope for you’. But actually, that’s not the case,” she says.
“We’re creating an unrealistic expectation around the support we can provide.”
The Western Australian government is reforming its sexual violence policy to address crippling shortages.
Ms. Lambert says she is hopeful that this process will lead to better outcomes for victims’ survivors, who will have timely access to specialized services in all parts of the state.
Some areas have no support services at all.
During the investigation, 7.30 found several “black spots” across the country where sexual assault support services usually do not exist. They contain:
All of western QueenslandBourke in NSW most of the west and east coasts of Tasmania, the extreme north of Western Australia and the Great Southern region of Coober Pedy, York and the mid-coast in South Australia, most of the Northern Territory inland.
The chief executive of Full Stop Australia’s national sexual assault agency, Hayley Foster, has called for a commitment from all political parties to remedy the crippling shortages in her sector immediately.
Hayley Foster says the sector’s crippling shortages need to be explored. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)
“We need an investigation into those black spots across the country and those serious flaws [in] assault [support] funding,” said Foster.
Federal Minister for Women’s Safety, Anne Ruston, said in a statement that the government established a Commission on Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence to deliver better outcomes for survivors of victims.
Karen Iles was a happy and motivated teenager when she took her family on a beach vacation almost thirty years ago.
She said it was then that a notorious gang sexually assaulted her several times.
“I was 14, so I was in 8th grade. I was still a kid,” she told 07:30.
Even now, Ms. Iles says, she has not been able to recover from this trauma.
“During the time I was raped, my whole sense of self, my whole identity, was just stripped from me,” she said.
“It’s unspeakable, the amount of trauma.”
Karen Iles says she never recovered from the trauma of her assault. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)
Recently, Mrs. Iles decided that she would finally get help.
She said a specialist sexual assault clinic rejected her at a local hospital in Sydney in 2018.
“Then I was left to my own devices. Somehow I got myself through it,” she said.
In 2021, Ms. Iles said she had again contacted a clinic at another Sydney hospital and was placed on a 12-month waiting list.
Ms. Iles said she had even contacted a private specialist service, but the waiting list was just as long.
“I’m still on both waiting lists,” Ms. Iles said.
Karen Iles was rejected several times by sexual assault clinics. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)
After being rejected three times, Ms. Iles was finally guided from a fourth clinic at another hospital in NSW.
However, she says it was a combination of luck and perseverance to access the support she desperately needed.
“I live in Sydney. Imagine women who live in regional or very remote areas. Their access to services must be shocking,” she said.
“Something needs to be done, and that’s why I’m speaking out today.”
‘It is incredibly urgent.’
As a former manager of a sexual assault agency in New South Wales, Tara Hunter said the victim’s survivors nevictims’ survivors gethey needed when reaching oucontactingst clinic.
“It takes courage and courage to come forward,” she said.
“It’s really important that we recognize that that person has a human right to access the right support.”
Ms. Hunter – the director of clinical and client services for Full Stop Australia – says services across the country are collapsing under pressure due to an exponential rise in reports of sexual assault.
Tara Hunter says lack of access to support services for survivors of victims can harm their mental health. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)
She said that as a result, the services prioritize helping people who contact them within seven days of their alleged attack, young people, or those with pre-existing mental health problems.
Those who come forward with historical accusations are usually at the bottom of the waiting list.
But, says Ms. Hunter, this can harm the mental health of people seeking help.
“If we’re unavailable to that person, it reinforces those messages that, ‘Actually, what happened to me isn’t a problem. I’ll sort it out myself; it’ll be fine,'” she said.
“And we know that many people are out of order.”
Full Stop Australia’s sexual assault hotline has obtained statistics showing that its counselors cannot respond to one in three callers.
“We can’t rest when we have areas across the country, and people affected by sexual violence don’t even have access to a single service,” Ms. Foster said.
“It’s incredibly urgent.”
Family and Domestic Violence Support Services:
A spokesman for the office of the NSW Minister for Women’s Security, Natalie Ward, told 7:30 a.m. that Full Stop Australia received $1,546,500 in funding for its Sexual Violence Helpline in 2020-21 and that an additional $20 million will be spent on Commonwealth funding was invested in domestic and family violence services in NSW.
The Queensland government said it has increased funding for specialist sexual assault services by more than 95 percent since 2015.
Communities Tasmania told 07:30 that the state’s sexual assault services received funding of $4.16 million in 2021-22 to support victims of sexual assault.
The Women’s and Children’s Health Network in South Australia said 50 percent of patients are seen within two weeks, and no patient will wait longer than six weeks for an appointment.
In a statement, the ACT government acknowledged that demand for sexual assault services is high and that the Canberra Rape Crisis Center and other frontline services have received increased funding in the 2021-22 budget to reflect increasing demand.
Watch this story tonight at 7:30 p.m. on ABC TV and ABC iview.