Abuse reported by Christchurch students 'a community epidemic' - victims advocate

Source: 1News

Disturbing results from an abuse and harassment survey of students at a Christchurch school "hurts your heart" but are sadly not surprising, victim advocate Ruth Money says.

Yesterday, a survey of more than 700 pupils at Christchurch Girls' High School revealed students are experiencing widespread sexual abuse  outside the school.

The survey was conducted after a group of students at the school protested against sexual harassment in May.

The survey was sent to 1042 consenting students, with 725 participating.

Results showed more than 20 students reported being raped.

As well, the girls were given the definition of sexual harassment, then 430 of them said they were harassed in some form, including groping or verbal abuse. Most said it had happened two to five times.

Overall, less than 10 per cent received any help or support after these incidents.

Money this morning told Breakfast it wasn't the school to blame, though, but rather "a community epidemic".

"It hurts your heart to know that this is happening in our communities and sadly its been normalised," she said.

"I think probably the first time that those girls saw the definition of sexual harassment and sexual assault was that survey ... we don't teach this and it's on all of us, this is not on the school, this is not just on the girls, it's not on the boys, this is an epidemic in our community and it has been for years."

Money added that the survey results were sad, but not surprising to her or anyone else working in the sector.

"There wouldn't be a female that I come across that hasn't in her life been harassed at some level," she said.

"We can't just leave it at one school in Christchurch."

Money said the Government has spent a lot on violence and abuse prevention, but that it wasn't making it into the community.

"If we had the Loves-Me-Not course in every school for every child, plus we had more school counsellors that would do more," she said.

"We need to be really targetted about where we spend this money and it's not in ministry buildings in Wellington, it's in the community.

"This is a community epidemic, this is not school aged young people against young people, this is adults abusing our young people, it's male versus male, it's male-female, the poor rainbow community is one of the most abused communities, disability, you know, this is an epidemic.

"We've had an absolute guts full of waiting on the pūtea and the resources to get into the community because that's actually where that mahi is happening to be able to educate and to care for survivors and those who harm, because if we don't deliver assistance to both the abuser and the abused this cycle keeps going."

Yesterday when asked about the survey, Jacinda Ardern acknowledged more access to programmes were needed in this area.

"Often, yes, you'll hear reports that it is sometimes within relationships that we see this violence occur and sometimes outside of it. Regardless, we need to create environments where young people have safe places to go, to report where issues have occurred," the Prime Minister said.

"There are things that we could and should be doing right upfront - ACC has been supporting a programme called Mates and Dates which does talk about some of these issues early on, but I know there are calls for us to ensure that there's greater and wider access for our young people to some of these programmes."

When asked if the responsibility falls on central Government, Ardern said these were "hard issues" that were "for all of us" to deal with.

"We have had reports, in some cases internationally that suggest alarming rates of sexual violence in education environments, particularly you'll recall that in some university campuses a time where really high rates were being reported there."

Also on Breakfast this morning, Robb McCann of White Ribbon, an organisation which promotes respectful relationships and works to prevent domestic and sexual violence against women, agreed that it was a wider problem, and not just occurring in families with violence.

"There are massive societal influences that effect our young men, whether it's pornography, whether it's young men being trapped in a man box where they are expected to be tough and in control and in charge and uncaring," he said.

"All of those things help to shape young men having relationships which are particularly unhealthy, which is why we talk so much about education and respectful relationships and healthy masculinity and wanting young men to be ethical."

McCann said there are attitudes through the generations which needed to change and are continuing to change, noting that once upon a time there was no rape within a marriage and women couldn't vote.

"We're on a spectrum of moving from one point to another, so we all have to accept that we have to evolve," he said.