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ANZASW backs sexual violence survivors seeking justice

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) is pleased that the government has announced that they will provide greater protections to survivors of sexual violence as they seek justice through the courts.

“Social workers bear witness to the long-term physical and psychological damage often experienced by survivors of sexual violence, some of whom are only just coming to terms with what they have been subjected to when asked to relive the trauma of what they have experienced during the court process,” ANZASW Chief Executive Lucy Sandford-Reed said.

“Therefore, we support moves to better support complainants during the court process, including having the option to testify or answer questions through an audio-visual link and / or pre-recorded video. We hope that this will encourage more people to come forward and report sexual violence offences,” she added.

“The fear of going through cross-examination in court has historically been a big factor in women’s reluctance to go forward with reporting sexual crimes. A lot of victims are likely to feel a lot more comfortable with doing this in advance of the trial, giving them less anxiety on the day,” Dr Natalie Thorburn, a sexual violence social worker and ANZASW member reflected.

“Improvements to victim/ survivors’ experience of giving evidence in the justice system, particularly around upholding their mana, dignity and showing compassion has got to be regarded as positive. I believe it acknowledges the difficulty in coming forward and reluctance of victims to enter this system as they are all too aware that it is problematic,” noted Kerri Cleaver, ANZASW member, registered social worker and lecturer at the University of Otago.

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“As social workers we absolutely need systems in place that protect victims who come forward and it is a complex area as highlighted in the two reports leading up to these changes. I also reference the difficulty in keeping victims safe in the royal commission setting where their stories are not being challenged as an example of the complexity of rights and responsibilities needed when working or supporting children, young people and adults affected by trauma.

“Māori women are disproportionately victims to sexual violence and the current changes need to ensure that the way in which the new rules are applied are nuanced to include cultural advocacy. This has been found to be essential in other abuse claims settings and should be considered in the criminal court system as equally important. For social workers the changes mean a greater confidence in our clients being treated with dignity and respect as they navigate the difficult terrain of giving evidence,” she added.

The Association looks forward to further action by government to protect survivors of sexual violence and to reduce the level of abuse generally in this country.

We call on all New Zealanders to play their part in supporting victims, by reaching out to them or contacting police.

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