Domestic violence survivor in the dark for months about counselling through ACC

Domestic violence survivor in the dark for months about counselling through ACC

A woman dealing with post-traumatic stress symptoms after escaping a violent relationship had to wait six months to hear whether she could get counselling through ACC.

The 28-year-old Auckland woman, who Stuff has agreed to identify as Lisa, said dealing with ACC had been “the biggest rigmarole of my life”.

She wanted ACC to understand how difficult it had been, in the hopes it would make the process simpler for those who need help.

Ten months ago, Lisa’s former partner came home drunk and “lost the plot”. He locked her in the house so she couldn’t get out and strangled her, she said.

He had been controlling throughout their 18-month relationship and had sought help for anger management in the past, but it had never gone that far, she said.

Neighbours called the police and he was later arrested.

That night irrevocably changed Lisa’s life. She was now angry and fearful – sometimes she woke up in the night “screaming”, she said.

“I’ll get home and still see him sitting on my couch.”

Lisa said she had never been an anxious person, but was now scared “all the time”.

Her emotions could feel out of control and at times they frightened her.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with.”

With the support of her employer, she was able to seek six free counselling sessions through its EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) scheme.

At her last session in December, her counsellor told Lisa she would be eligible for funded counselling through the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC).

ACC is New Zealand’s sole provider of accident insurance for all physical and psychological injuries.

As well as supporting those who have suffered physical injuries in an accident or work-related situation, it pays for counselling for adults and children who have been affected by sexual abuse (recent or historic) under its Sensitive Claims scheme.

Domestic violence victims can also get support from ACC for any physical injuries, and psychological assessment and counselling for psychological issues resulting from violence-related injuries.

Lisa experienced sexual abuse as a child, which is linked to a higher risk of abusive relationships in the future.

When she first contacted ACC for help in early December, she was told there were two potential options: sensitive claims counselling for the abuse she endured as a child, or mental injury resulting from physical injury. However, emails seen by Stuff show neither were actively pursued by ACC staff.

She was told in January she would be contacted to arrange an assessment, but this did not happen.

“I constantly fell off their radar.”

She was “passed around” and given “different information”, she said.

“I just felt like I’d gotten lost.”

She kept following up by phone and email, something which Lisa said was a luxury in itself.

“What about the people who don’t have the money to keep calling? … If it’s this difficult for me, I can’t imagine what some others have to go through.”

Meanwhile, Lisa had to contend with her former partner’s looming sentence date and all the stress that came with it, without the support of counselling.

In a statement, ACC said it acknowledged that “after initial discussions about getting her assessed for historic abuse we failed to respond to [Lisa’s] situation as promptly as we should have, and we apologise for that”.

The spokesman said ACC did inform Lisa she could access up to 14 hours of therapy but “failed to ensure that option was progressed so therapy could begin while we organised an assessment to consider cover and appropriate longer-term support for her”.

Since being contacted by Stuff, ACC has contacted Lisa to start the assessment process and has found her a counsellor to talk to in the meantime.

Already this year, 5647 New Zealanders have sought sensitive claims counselling through ACC.