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Power: Working with Sexual Violence Symposium

Hon Simon Power
Minister of Justice


6 May 2010 Speech Notes
Speech to
Working with Sexual Violence Symposium
Auckland

Thank you for inviting me to open your symposium today.

I’d like to acknowledge the Counselling Services Centre, Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP, and Rape Prevention Education for hosting this symposium.

As many of you will know, I’m retiring from politics at the election, so this is probably the last time I’ll speak to you as a sector.

I’d like to begin by expressing my appreciation for the open and co-operative way in which you’ve engaged with me and my officials over the past two-and-a-half years.

We haven’t always agreed.

And, at times there have been frustrations.

But the enormous amount of goodwill and good faith that underpins our relationship has guided us through our difficulties.

Together, we have made some significant progress in ensuring that victims of sexual violence have better access to the support they need.

A good gauge of the progress we have made is the final report of the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence.

As you’ll know, the 70 recommendations in that report were divided into three action areas.

The first of these areas was prevention, and I’m sure you’ll agree that progress in this area is pleasing.

Last year, the Government committed $1 million over two years to fund sexual violence prevention programmes.

The contestable funding round for these programmes is under way and it’s my expectation that the successful programmes will be up and running in July.


The second action area covered crisis, long-term recovery services, and services for perpetrators.

The current economic climate means that progress in this area has been a little slower than we would have liked – though we have made some important gains.

For instance, the ministries of Justice and Social Development have provided ongoing funding for the survivor advocate role.

The Government has also committed funding from the $50 Offender Levy for a court support service for victims of sexual violence.

By the middle of next year, that service will consist of 18 specialist victim advisors based at courts around the country.

I’m pleased that early reports suggest the court advisers are being used by more than 80 per cent of sexual violence victims going through court.

The Government has also introduced a new discretionary grant to help reduce some of the immediate one-off costs victims face in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

We recently doubled the amount of that grant from $250 to $500, but up take has been slow.

I need the help of your sector to help raise awareness about this grant so we can get victims you work with to make use of it.

Information resources have also been developed to make the criminal court process less bewildering for victims of serious crime.

This includes information specific to the needs of victims of sexual violence.

I’m proud of what the $50 Offender Levy has delivered for victims of crime and I’m pleased to report there is more to come.

I’ll get to the specifics of new Offender Levy-funded initiatives shortly.

The report’s third action area was criminal justice reform.

Improving the way the criminal justice system interacts with vulnerable parties has been my primary objective during my time as Minister of Justice.

I’ve chosen to centre much of this work on children, because they’re the most vulnerable members of society and deserve special protection.

As many of you will know, the Ministry of Justice is considering alternative pre-trial and trial processes for child witnesses.

These will have a particular focus on the feasibility of:

• Pre-recording a child’s entire evidence, including their cross-examination, prior to the trial.

• Introducing trained experts to undertake the cross-examination and re-examination of children, and

• Providing additional information to legal professionals on effective ways of questioning children.

Officials recently reported back to me with options for reform and I hope to be saying more about this in the next few months.

I acknowledge that some of these proposals have potential applications in cases involving sexual offending and I’m pleased the Law Foundation and the Law Commission are looking at ways of improving the court experience of victims involved in sexual cases.

I await their reports with interest.

The Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill, which I intend to pass before the election, will benefit victims of sexual violence by ensuring more timely access to justice.

It’s unacceptable that victims, witnesses, defendants, and the community are waiting an average of 16 months for a High Court case to proceed through the courts

The Government’s recently announced victims’ package will also help victims of sexual violence in a number of ways.

Some of the most significant reforms in the package which you will be interested in include:

Improving the Victim Notification System so victims are given a wider range of notifications, and making it clear in legislation that all victims of sexual violence are eligible for these notifications.

• The development of a Victims Code to improve the responsiveness and accountability of justice sector agencies to victims. The Code will specifically consider the processes for victims of sexual violence.

• A Victims Centre within the Ministry of Justice, which will be a one-stop shop to coordinate and promote the awareness of state-funded services available to victims of crime including those funded by the Offender Levy, and

• Improving victim-prosecutor communications.

The reforms I’ve outlined will have a significant impact on the face of New Zealand’s criminal justice system.

They will speed up the system and centre it more on the needs of those who find themselves in it through no fault of their own.

We have achieved a lot in the last two-and-a-half years.

Before I announce the new offender levy-funded services for victims of sexual violence, I first want to acknowledge that funding for crisis support services remains the single biggest issue facing your sector.

Coming cap-in-hand to the government year-on-year is not a sustainable or satisfactory way for the sexual violence sector to operate.

We need to give you greater certainty in your funding arrangements.

To this end, I understand that Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett recently entered into discussions with TOAH-NNEST about constructing a more sustainable funding model for the sector.

I’m sure these discussions will be informed by TOAH-NNEST’s stocktake of front-line services and by the MSD-led cross-agency stocktake of government expenditure on sexual violence services.

I wish you well in your negotiations with Minister Bennett.

She has a deep and abiding interest in this area and I’m confident your discussions will be productive.

We’re now just seven months from the election and from my retirement from politics, but I want to make it clear I have no intention of winding down between now and then.

There is still much to be done.

In that respect, some of you may have read that the collection of the $50 Offender Levy is tracking significantly ahead of expectation.

In fact, we met our first year collection target of $2 million some 5 months ahead of schedule.

Because the levy has been collected more quickly than anticipated we are now in a position to dedicate an additional $946,000 a year to fund more services for victims of crime.

I’m delighted to announce the extra support this week, being Rape Awareness Week.

In designing these new services one of my main aims has been to improve the dismal reporting rate for sexual violence.

To do this, we need to ensure that victims have access to appropriate emotional and financial support to help them get through the court process.
Currently, victims can be paid for the time they spend giving evidence, but not for the rest of the trial.

I’m pleased to announce that from 1 July, the Ministry of Justice will be funding a court attendance grant of $100 a day for both victims of sexual violence and their unpaid support person.

This will help them cover some of the financial costs – such as lost wages, incurred as a result of attending court.

In addition, the eligibility criteria for the victims’ travel assistance scheme will be expanded.

Currently, victims of serious crime receive funding of up to $3,000 if they have to travel to attend trial, and $1,500 for Parole Board hearings.

From 1 July, we will contribute up to $1,000 per victim for all justice-related travel not already covered by the scheme.

This could include travel to court education for young victims, travel to coronial hearings or travel to meet victim advisers before trial.

These grants complete the support available for sexual violence victims throughout the justice process.

They will now have access to travel assistance, a specialist victim adviser, and a daily allowance to help them offset costs such as lost wages.

The Government will also increase funding for a means-tested emergency grant for economically disadvantaged victims of serious crimes such as sexual assault

Research shows that people in socio-economically deprived areas have a higher chance of victimisation.

This grant, of up to $2000, is designed to help victims of serious crime who require special assistance but have no way of paying for it.

The grant can be used to pay for expenses such as trauma counselling, supplying security locks, emergency accommodation, and relocation costs, where funding is not available from any other source.

In total, the budget for this grant has been between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.

From 1 July, the budget will increase to $100,000 a year.

I hope you will use your networks to help raise awareness about these new services and grants.

Overall, the uptake of Offender Levy-funded services has been positive, and feedback indicates they are making a real difference to victims of crime.
But if victims don’t know that these entitlements exist, they cannot access them.

And, that’s where you come in.

Thank you again for inviting me to open your symposium today.

Your relationship with the Government is in good heart, and I want to assure you that that won’t end with my retirement.

Paula Bennett and Tariana Turia, who share ministerial leadership of the sexual violence sector with me, will carry the mantle, ensuring that you have representation at the highest levels of government.

Thank you again for your input over the past two-and-a-half years.

I wish you well for the rest of the symposium, and for the future.


ENDS

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