Opening of SAFE Networks - Phil Goff's Speech
Thank you for inviting me to be with you today for the opening of SAFE’s new premises in Grafton.
I think that it was five years ago that I joined with some of you to mark the occasion of SAFE moving to its former premises at Mt Eden Rd. Time passes quickly.
Just 10 years ago, SAFE hadn’t been formed. There was before that in Auckland no specialist agency that could provide comprehensive treatment programs to sexual offenders in the community.
For too long, New Zealand society swept the problem of sexual offending under the carpet. It refused to recognize the scale of sexual offending, the needs of the victims of sexual abuse and the need for steps to be taken to prevent sexual offending, rather than responding after the event by punishing the minority of sexual offenders who were caught.
I think we still fail to recognise how widespread the problem is, and we certainly under resource programmes which are effective in preventing offending.
If only the intense anger which follows disclosure of sexual abuse could be translated into equal determination to take early steps to prevent it.
Over the course of my career as
an MP, and in particular my work in the justice area, I have
seen too often the appalling consequences of sexual abuse
– children who never enjoyed the innocence, security and happiness that should have been their birthright.
– Young men and women whose adolescence is traumatised by their experiences of sexual abuse while still children.
– People whose lives have been wasted and who themselves have become serious offenders in part because of the sexual and physical abuse they endured early in their lives.
Just yesterday a 15 year old, Natalie Fenton was convicted of an appalling murder that it is hard to conceive a 15 year old girl could be capable of.
A familiar story emerged at her trial – sexually abused as a child, a primary school dropout, prostitute and drug-user at 11, armed robber at 13.
Nothing excuses her actions, but all of us must think that had her life begun in a different way, in a safe and loving environment, then the tragic consequences that led to yesterday’s result might have been avoided.
Today I want to take this occasion to thank all of those involved in SAFE, psychologists, therapists, administrators, social workers, volunteers and supporters for your efforts to keep children and others free of sexual abuse.
Not only does your work in facilitating abuse free lifestyles for those that sexually offend prevent people from becoming victims, it also prevents the heart ache of those who are the family of abusers.
The pain endured by that group is often overlooked.
No form of treatment is fail safe. However, I would like to acknowledge also on this occasion the professionalism of your work and the extraordinarily good results it has achieved.
Under the Adolescent program, evaluation by Auckland University’s psychology department showed that 93% of participants believe the program was worthwhile and had a significant impact on stopping future offending.
CYPFA records indicated that none of the clients they had referred to SAFE who participated in the program had re-offended two years later.
It must become a priority for our society to ensure that men and women who have offending problems can gain access to professional counseling programs. In particular it is essential that adolescents with offending problems can be identified and receive treatment as early as possible.
I note that among your future projects in the development of treatment services for children under 12 who sexually molest. I applaud that. Early treatment is more likely to be effective.
I also note that you aim to establish a treatment programme for female offenders. It is an oddity and anachronism in our current law that it does not recognise an offense of sexual abuse by women. For too many of the sexual offenses under the Crimes Act there is no female equivalent to sexual offense committed by males.
Female abusers therefore escape being held accountable under the law. There is no opportunity for court-directed treatment and victims are denied ACC support for trauma counseling.
This year I will amend the Crimes Act to remove this anomaly. However, legislation by itself does not resolve the problem. That is why the work done by SAFE and other organizations is critical.
Can I offer you all my congratulations for what you have achieved and my best wishes and my support for your future endeavors.