In what can only be described as a serious bureaucratic bungle, New South Wales sexual assault services are likely to miss out on a share of $80 million in funding handed down from the Federal Government.
While NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has promised to investigate why this occurred, there’s no guarantee the situation will be rectified and funds will make their way to victim services.
The funding is earmarked as part of a national partnership agreement on domestic, family and sexual violence, but the NSW Government has so far only allocated funds to domestic and family violence, with nothing being given to sexual assault services.
It is the Health Minister’s responsibility to determine how funds are allocated.
Massive funding shortfalls
The blame shifting erupted at a recent budget committee meeting, which heard that Full Stop Australia, the organisation responsible for providing a 24-hour rape crisis helpline, needs at least $900,000 more per year to fully staff the service and respond to every call.
The committee also heard that victim support services funded by the government had not had a substantial funding increase since 1986, despite a steady increase in demand for services – which is hardly a secret.
The epidemic of violence against women has been making headlines for a long time with the social conversation coming to head last year when Brittany Higgins alleged that she had been raped in Parliament House by a colleague – the most secure and monitored building in Australia.
Crisis services overwhelmed by need
Crime statistics show that during the Covid-19 pandemic incidences of domestic and family violence rose sharply, however sexual assaults declined. But the two types of violence are not always inseparable.
Full Stop Australia CEO Hayley reports that last year the organisation received more than 14,000 calls for support, but were only able to answer 2 out of 3 calls, because of a lack of funding.
Health Minister ‘unaware’ of the need for funding increases
However, during the budget, Mr Hazzard claimed to have been unaware of the need for funding increases: “I don’t recollect anybody raising that recently … not to my knowledge,” and although he showed support for the services in need also said it would be “naive” to commit to funding increases into the issue without investigating the issue further.
For the services desperately needing more money, this could be seen as a slap in the face. After all, the NSW Government has a history of handing over money to projects that don’t have an urgent need, and that are politically advantageous, without, in many cases, indicating a need for ‘further investigation.’
Greens MP Abigail Boyd, said in a statement it is “extraordinary” for the Minister to claim he wasn’t aware of a need for increased funding. “I just can’t believe the dodging and weaving; this lack of funding isn’t new,” she said.
According to the statistics, one in five Australian women and one in 20 men have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15. Most assaults occur in private spaces, and many are against women by a man whio is known to them.
‘Vital’ services for victims
However, an overwhelming majority of victims (87%) never contact the police – worried their experience won’t be taken seriously, concerned about the stigma or repercussions for themselves, sometimes even concerned about repercussions for the perpetrator. And, because sexual assault is under-reported, or there can be a delay in reporting sexual assault, the figures don’t always paint an accurate picture.
Research also shows that victim-survivors want their experience to be heard and acknowledged, and they want the perpetrator stopped from harming others.
Specialist sexual assault hotlines and rape crisis centres have a vital role to play here – in helping victims come to terms with their shock, helping them to navigate their choices, and helping them to find pathway that will help them heal from the trauma. And, to fulfill this role, they need to be funded accordingly.