A “vital” new 24/7 helpline has been launched to support the thousands of New Zealanders who experience sexual harm each year.

‘Safe to Talk’ (He pai ki te kōrero) is a confidential text, phone and email service available to anyone affected by sexual harm in any way – both survivors as well as perpetrators.

Published in Stuff.

In a New Zealand first, the service, launched by Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni in Auckland on Friday, aims to provide phone, text and webchat support around medical, emotional, and behavioural issues related to harmful experiences.

Staff on the other end of the phone, led by psychiatrist Dr Siale Foliaki, are experienced sexual trauma professionals.

Between January 2016 and January 2017, 5865 people were the victim of rape or sexual assault in New Zealand, according to Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP.

The majority of those were against women aged 15-19.

In New Zealand, up to one in three girls will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience by the age of 16.

For Māori girls and women, the likelihood of sexual violence is nearly twice as high as the general population.

And around one in seven boys and men will have experienced sexual abuse by the time they reach adulthood.

The act of disclosing a problem of sexual harm can be as big as the problem itself, he said.

“Victims – who should actually be known as survivors – should be aware they are the one who is in control of what happens after an act of sexual harm has occurred – no matter if the act is perceived as small, whether the person is known to them or they feel powerless at the time.”

Getting the right help at the right time is key, but for many this can be a daunting step for someone to take, Foliaki said.

Shame and self-blame can act as barriers preventing someone from reaching out for help, so anonymity is a key part of the service.

Those using the service do not have to give any personal details, and can say as much or as little as they like.

Safe To Talk is suitable for people looking for advice in the immediacy of an incident, or support for a historical act of harm.

The service also offers referrals to specialists in a person’s area, information for family and friends wanting to support someone, information and contact with a specialist for people worried about their own sexually harmful thoughts or behaviour and connections or referral to medical practitioners for medical care or forensic medical examination.

Due to the hidden nature of sexual harm it can be difficult to gather an accurate picture of the problem, with an estimated nine per cent of incidents ever reported to police.

Since it was rolled out across the country in April, 665 individual people have contacted the service.

Supporting Survivors

The service is being operated by Homecare Medical, who run the National Telehealth Service which delivers free health and mental health advice, support and information including Healthline, Need to talk? 1737, Quitline and other specialist services.

The helpline is one of a number of initiatives under the work programme being led by the Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence.

Budget 2016 allocated $46m over four years for the development of specialist sexual harm services.

‘Safe to Talk’ is available free and 24/7 by calling 0800 044 334, texting 4334, emailing support@safetotalk.nz or online at www.safetotalk.nz

Where victims of sexual violence/harm can get help

Safe to Talk0800 044 334 (24/7) text 4334, or email support@safetotalk.nz

Rape Crisis0800 88 33 00 (will direct you to a nearby centre), click link for information on local helplines

HELP09 623 1700 – support services for sexual abuse and assault survivors

Victim Support – 0800 842 846 (24hr service)

The Harbour, online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse.

Women’s Refuge (For women and children) – crisis line available on 0800 733 843.

Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust (For men), Helplines across NZ, click to find out more.

If it is an emergency or you, or someone you know, is at risk, call 111.

Article written by Hannah Martin
Published in the Crux.
1 June 2018.