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Sexual Assault Support Under Lockdown

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01-07 May is Rape Awareness Week. The Sexual Assault Support team at Aviva have had to operate differently under alert levels 3 and 4. How does sexual violence affect people differently under lockdown? We spoke to Client Services Manager Fiona, and Clinician Abby, to find out how they support people and what that has looked like under lockdown.

“I have heard many clients cry for the first time in a while, due to being given the security and space with SASSC* to do so,” says Abby. “A lot of clients cannot talk to their family members or housemates about their harm specifically while in lockdown.”

Since lockdown began, Aviva has seen an increase in family violence referrals, but a decrease in new referrals for sexual violence. However, it doesn’t mean that sexual violence isn’t happening. Sadly, Fiona tells us, “we expect that those experiencing sexual harm are likely not letting anyone know at this time.” We see a similar trend each year around the earthquake anniversary and did so after the Mosque attacks in 2019. Fiona recalls a client who was raped in the weeks following the terrorist attack saying, “it didn’t seem important with everything going on” so she didn’t notify police, get medical treatment or support.

Another reason why SASSC may be experiencing a lower volume of phone calls is issues of privacy in the home, “I have seen that when I call, clients cannot talk in a discreet way…Or they’re living with the person who [used sexual violence]” says Abby.

For a small number of people, lockdown has made it easier to talk about what’s happening for them. Fiona tells us, “sexual assault is underreported, which means so many people go through life coping with the effects of trauma alone. But at the moment, it is normal to be having a trauma response to the pandemic. Suddenly, the effects that are shamed and hidden are normal and they can talk about the effects without having to talk about the assault. They have community and connection back.”

The important thing to remember says Fiona, is that both under lockdown and beyond “help is here when you need it”. Under levels 3 and 4 lockdown, the team has been unable to attend medical exams or police appointments, but instead provides support over the phone or via video immediately before and after (if desired).

Abby’s final words for people are this: “the most important thing for accessing support during lockdown is that it is done so in a way that makes you feel secure, safe, and that your support is going to be confidential. We’re with you to ensure that you are not in an unsafe situation that could expose you to further instances of harm.
“For someone supporting a person who has experienced sexual violence, the biggest factor for building trust and communication is that the person who has experienced harm feels safe, heard, and fully believed. Encourage your loved one to share as little or as much as they can. Let them lead.”
These words of advice are relevant not only under lockdown, but always.

*Sexual Assault Support Services Canterbury, delivered in partnership with START.

Aviva’s emergency appeal:
Safe to Talk (NZ-wide):
Male Survivors Aotearoa:
NZ Police:

About Aviva
Aviva’s vision is an Aotearoa free from the harms of family and sexual violence. Aviva is available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year and supports more than 1000 adults, children and families every year. They support people of any age, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation who: use (or are at risk of using) violence; are experiencing, or have experienced family violence; have experienced recent or historic sexual assault/rape; are concerned about someone else who may be at risk of violence or using violence.


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