Aid centers for ‘life-saving’ assault in crisis

A national sexual violence support center is “in crisis” without enough responders to manage the record number of sexual assault survivors seeking lifesaving help.

Over the past year, Full Stop Australia has seen 27 growing demand for services without additional funding or advisors.

Aid centers for 'life-saving' assault in crisis

A third of calls to the NSW Sexual Violence Helpline, operated by the center, go unanswered.

Full Stop CEO Hayley Foster said it was devastating to know that people were asking for help during the most traumatic experience and not getting through to a counselor.

Camera IconHayley Foster is the CEO of Full Stop Australia, a sexual violence crisis center in NSW where demand for their services has surged. Credit: News Corp Australia

“When someone takes that step to get help — it’s huge and so brave — they get a voicemail when they’ve done that, it keeps us up at night,” she said.

“It’s unforgivable.”

Three weeks ahead of the state budget, Full Stop calls on the NSW government to increase funding for overstretched sexual assault services.

“We’re just in a crisis and trying to pick up the phone and support people,” she said.

“It’s as if sexual assault centers — and standard sexual assault survivors — are being forgotten and not prioritized.”

Sexual assault survivors across NSW are forced to wait more than a year to access specialist counseling, and many depend on the 24-hour helpline for help.

“Lifesaving” support

One such person is Ranjeeta, a sexual assault survivor who credits the NSW Sexual Assault Helpline for saving her life.

After being attacked, Ranjeeta realized she “struggled very hard” and needed specialist support. She described a grueling process to access what should be readily available.

“It took me more than six months to get in touch with a sexual violence service through my GP,” she says.

Camera IconRanjeeta is a sexual assault survivor who struggled to access trauma services. Credit: News Corp Australia

“After the first appointment, I was told the waiting list was over a year to make an appointment with a trauma therapist.”

The scarcity of counselors, lack of funding, and the influx of survivors of sexual assault meant that any services Ranjeeta tried to reach could not accommodate her.

She said waiting so long, only to find out that support still wouldn’t be available, was crushing.

“I remember feeling so hopeless that I could barely get home that day. I remember thinking, ‘what should I do now?'” she said.

The young woman said she would not have survived the trauma without access to the “lifesaving” 24/7 NSW Sexual Assault Helpline.

“I could say Full Stop saved my life. Because of the system’s shortcomings, that was my only refuge from getting professional help with trauma support,” she said.

“Especially at a time when I can barely last.”

After struggling for so long to access specialist counseling, Ranjeeta now turns to a private therapist. While she’s relieved to have the support, she said she sometimes had to choose between food and therapy.

Camera IconRanjeeta fought valiantly for more than a year after her attack to access sexual assault crisis services. Credit: News Corp Australia

And even with a regular trauma therapist, Ranjeeta said there were times when she needed the help of the 24-hour helpline.

She said she shouldn’t call because she knew the service was congested.

“One of the hardest things about calling Full Stop is feeling guilty because I know there isn’t enough support to take the call,” she said.

“The government should fund the helpline if they aren’t going to fix the underlying problems.”

More pressure on the system

The number of survivors missing essential trauma counseling services is set to rise with the introduction of positive consent laws in NSW.

Full Stop Australia helped shape the “critical changes” the agency has demanded for decades, but Ms. Foster said sexual violence crisis services were neglected in implementation.

“We have previously expressed concerns about underfunding, and we had expressed concern that with this new law change and campaign, we would expect a much larger increase in calls to our helpline,” she said.

Camera icon Attorney General Mark Speakman and Survivor advocate and director of Rape & Sexual Violence Research Saxon Mullins have announced the affirmative consent laws. Gaye Gerard Credit: News Corp Australia

The CEO noted that there had been many “hand on heart” speeches about supporting sexual assault survivors. Still, no definitive change to ensure trauma services were there to facilitate that support.

“It’s frustrating to get more platitudes coming to us and not real action that’s going to save lives,” Ms. Foster said.

However, a spokesman for the NSW government denied that the government paid lip service to support survivors of sexual assault.

“Harassment is a serious and devastating crime, which is why the NSW government is investing significantly in this area,” they said.

The spokesperson noted that Full Stop received more than $1.54 million in funding last year for the NSW Sexual Violence Helpline. The NSW government has also increased funding by about 2.5 percent per year for the past 30 years.

However, despite rising demand, Ms. Foster said the service had not received a significant funding boost in the past ten years.

Camera IconSigns at a Justice4Women meeting show the demand for services for survivors. Credit: News Corp Australia, Emma Brasier

“We’ve asked — just to operate the phone line so we can pick up the phone — for just over a million dollars for the entire state,” she said.

“We are talking about one in five women and one in 20 men being affected by sexual violence. We are dealing with thousands and thousands of phone calls.”

“Political Football”

The additional funding would pay for 25 assistance services for the 24-hour helpline so calls from survivors would not go unanswered.

Still, the trauma service has not been able to get any guarantees from the NSW government. According to a Full Stop employee, part of the problem is that the NSW departments are playing ‘political football’ with the crisis centers because they don’t fit neatly into one portfolio.

With the record number of victims of sexual violence seeking help, NSW Sexual Violence Crisis Centers are calling for recognition.

Lori J. Kile
I love to write and create. I love photography, design, travel and art. I am a full time freelance writer and photographer.I am very excited to be creating new content and opportunities for my readers.