Sexual harm assessment clinic opens

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A year-long pilot of a weekly clinic for non-urgent sexual abuse care has been launched at Dunedin Hospital.

Staffed by doctors trained in sexual abuse care, the Tuesday afternoon Sexual Harm Assessment Clinic aims to support adolescents and adults who have been sexually abused or assaulted, but whose needs fall outside the acute sexual assault forensic service.

The clinic is the vision of Southern District Health Board’s Sexual Abuse Assessment and Treatment Service clinical leader Dr Jill McIlraith, who said it had become clear that there was a need for a broader service alongside the usually after-hours acute service.

“While operating the acute service, we have been aware that there are people out there who are not covered who would benefit from sexual abuse and assault care,” Dr McIlraith said.

The new clinic, which would be led by Dr Margaret Charles, would be a “one-stop shop” for all aspects of sexual abuse and assault.

“This could be someone who doesn’t want to go to the police, or around historic sexual abuse from weeks, months or years before,” Dr McIlraith said.

“It can sometimes take a long time for people to come forward, and it can be easier for them to talk to a doctor who is outside their usual GP practice.

“And we know from overseas research that just telling someone about a sexual assault and having it acknowledged can be extremely therapeutic.”

Previously, if a person had come forward to report a sexual assault from more than a week beforehand, police would have had “nowhere to send them”.

“So, this clinic will provide an avenue for those who fall outside of the forensic window.”

The clinic would also be able to provide follow-up for people involved in acute sexual harm cases.

“The clinic will also provide an opportunity for us to discuss reporting and accessing support agencies, and provide reassurance and information.

“We will also be able to provide patients with options, such as whether to report to police or not, and to support them in making the best decision for them.”

Dr McIlraith said it was believed that up to 90% of sexual assaults were unreported, so it was also hoped that the clinic would help capture more accurate numbers of cases.

About 50 acute forensic cases were reported in Dunedin each year, and she believed the demand for the clinic’s services would gradually increase as people became aware of it.

After a year-long pilot, if the clinic has proven successful, it will be rolled out district-wide.

The free clinic, which is based out of the Sexual Health Clinic at Dunedin Hospital, can be accessed directly by patients or they can be referred by their GP.

Help At Hand

  • Southern District Health Board Sexual Harm Assessment Clinic – phone 0800 114 411 or email SHAC@southerndhb.govt.nz
  • Safe To Talk 24 hour sexual harm helpline — phone 0800 044 334, text
    4334, online chat www.safetotalk.nz, email support@safetotalk.nz
  • Te Whare Tawharau drop in centre for University of Otago students — phone 0800 479 379, text 021 278 3795, email tewharetawharau@otago.ac.nz
  • Need to Talk counsellors — www.1737.org.nz, free call or text 1737
  • Otepoti Collective Against Sexual Abuse (formerly Rape Crisis) — phone 474-1592, email support@ocasa.org.nz
  • ACC Sensitive Claims unit — phone 0800 735 566
  • Stopping Violence Dunedin — phone 0800 474 1121
  • Victim Support — phone 0800 842 846, www.victimsupport.org.nz
  • Mirror Counselling — phone 479-2970, email reception@mirrorservices.org.nz
  • Shakti Ethnic Women’s Support Group — phone 0800 742 584
  • Women’s Refuge — phone 0800 733 843, https://womensrefuge.org.nz/
  • Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Aotearoa NZ (Otago) — phone 425-8018, email info@mso.nz