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Aviva Research Emphasizes Need For Youth-Focused Support For Young People Who Have Experienced Sexual Harm


Thanks to funding from The Vodafone Foundation, Aviva’s Sexual Assault Support Service Canterbury (SASSC) Team recently worked on a project which explored the support available for young people following sexual harm. As well as commissioning a literature review, the project interviewed youth participants to better understand their experiences.


According to the Ministry of Justice, 16- to 24-year-olds are four times more likely to experience sexual assault. Yet, across Aotearoa, the availability of youth focused sexual harm services remains limited.

Aviva and SASSC have long recognised the need for youth-focused services. SASSC only receives government funding to support individuals 18 years and above. However, over the years the service has received referrals to support youth aged 13-17 years from various sources.

In recent months, we have seen a great deal of media coverage on the effects of sexual harm on youth, from the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry, as well as locally in the disclosures of sexual harm made by female students at Christchurch Girls’ High School. The need for youth specific support for young people who experience sexual harm, has become more topical and pressing, this research supports anecdotal evidence that can no longer be ignored.


The research identified several limitations to the services currently available to rangatahi – workforce capacity, insufficient funding, and inconsistent response. As one participant explained, “I’m reluctant to access mental health support for sexual harm. There’s a lot of work to be done in the crisis system, because they are so understaffed.”

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In particular, the findings showed:

  • Professionals delivering the service for youth need more resources and training to cater to the individual developmental needs of the youth and their whānau.
  • Available services for youth are often limited or not appropriate. Young people might be put into “children’s services,” services designed for people much older or be turned away completely because of their age.
  • Young people who experience sexual harm often want access to instant online professional support delivered in a discrete online environment. Phone calls don’t work for everyone.
  • For people who experience sexual harm, collaborative, wrap-around support and advocacy for additional needs such as safety, crisis counselling, financial assistance, legal support, and emergency housing is needed.
  • Young people who experience sexual harm can be found in every level of the society, every gender and ethnicity, and require individualised care, support, and advice to enable long term healing and recovery. Research participants highlighted the need for diverse workforces, which would make it easier for Rainbow, Māori, Pasifika, and male youth to open up.
  • Further work needs to be done to educate and empower youth to understand sexual harm and consent, as well as what constitutes healthy intimate relationships.


If the research has shown us anything, it is the need for better funded youth-focused services and support workers. Jo Bader, the Senior Client Services Manager of SASSC says the time for change is now: “In Te Aorerekura (the National Strategy to Eliminate Family and Sexual Violence), the government have boldly stated their vision to create an Aotearoa that is free from violence. This research clearly shows that to do this, significant changes are required in the way that support for young people experiencing sexual harm is funded and delivered, alongside the work that is mandated under legislation by both the Police and Oranga Tamariki. These agencies have a statutory obligation to ensure safety and ongoing protection whilst maintaining a focus on overall prevention. This work is best carried out in collaboration with specialist agencies who are well placed to provide ongoing wrap-around support.”

Despite funding to conduct this research, SASSC is still not funded to work with young people under the age of 18 and resources for young people across Aotearoa remain limited.

As SASSC Senior Clinician and Project Coordinator, Sofia Ayushi, explains, “Collaborative, wrap-around sexual harm support from both government and non-government sector agencies with a youth focus is required. Prior to the incident, consent and sexual harm education is key. After the immediate crisis, services should provide information, advice, advocacy, crisis counselling, and in-person support and accompaniment for medical, police, and court appointments. It is essential the system is easily accessed and navigated by youth and well-integrated with other services they might need.”


You can find the full research reports on Aviva’s website at


Aviva is a Canterbury-based, specialist family and sexual violence agency dedicated to making New Zealand Aotearoa violence-free. We offer an extensive range of integrated, specialist services to support all people, children, youth and adults, to live free from violence and overcome its enduring harms. Aviva’s emergency support services are available 24/7.

Sexual Assault Support Service Canterbury (SASSC) is run in partnership with START and offers 24/7 crisis support to individuals and their whānau following the disclosure of recent or historic sexual harm.


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