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Psych survivors call for redress over abuse claims

Psych survivors call for redress over historic abuse claims

A coalition representing psych survivor groups throughout the country is calling for a “redress process” to hear historic claims of abuse in New Zealand psychiatric institutions. The call follows recent media reports of abuse in a range of institutions – particularly Porirua Hospital.

The Coalition represents groups in Wellington, Porirua, Auckland, Hamilton, the Bay of Plenty, Christchurch and Rotorua. Other groups are expected to join the campaign.

The group wants to meet with the Attorney General Margaret Wilson, Minister of Health Annette King and other government officials to discuss terms and conditions for future redress.

“We know very good redress procedures have been developed in both Canada and Ireland and we would like to see similar models established in New Zealand,” says Coalition spokesperson Helen Gilbert. “What we are looking for is a fair and just process to hear our stories and provide us with appropriate compensation.

“We want to have a say in how the process is set up and to make sure that psych survivors, a severely under-privileged and disadvantaged group, are treated sensitively and not re-victimised. We also want to see them properly resourced so they can participate fully in the process.

Helen Gilbert says the Coalition represents the unspoken voice of thousands of people who don’t have the personal and social resources to seek redress through traditional avenues.

“At the time many of these survivors were incarcerated in mental institutions, the New Zealand Government was a signatory to all sorts of international conventions on human rights.

“Many people have experienced abuse and torture at the hands of the state – this has ranged from the use of ECT, medication and seclusion as punishment, to long-term incarceration in institutions when there was no need for them to be there.”

Spokesperson for the National Advisory Group to the Like Minds Programme, Chris Hansen says the issue “has become like a suppurating wound – it has tentacles that reach out into a number of areas, and it will not go away. There’s a whole layer hidden in our society that is blocked by shame and blame.”

“A redress process is necessary for the whole community,” says John Tovey from the Central Potential survivors group. He says “in Porirua, the lives of so many people have been touched by the old Porirua Hospital, former patients, their families, or people who have or are working there.

“We don’t want this to turn into a witch hunt because the institutions in which the abuse took place were to a large extent an extension of wider community attitudes at the time.”

Colin Slade, chair of the Psychiatric Consumers Trust in Christchurch believes that any future process must be designed to minimize distress in a vulnerable group of people who have already been badly victimized.

“Courts are in nobody’s best interest. Our experience is that most people don’t want compensation but they do want an apology and a reassurance that this will never happen to anyone else,” he says.

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