National | Health

Opinion: What our tamariki really need when it comes to sexual violence support

Te Ao reporter Jessica Tyson is a survivor of child sexual abuse and the founder of Brave, an organisation which works towards helping and educating rangatahi in Aotearoa affected by sexual violence.

After hearing about the announcement of government’s $320mil investment in family and sexual violence support services I was relieved.

Every year about one million New Zealanders are affected by family and sexual violence, including almost 300,000 children. So the funding has been overdue.

Of course, funding towards support services is going help, but as a survivor of child sexual abuse, I believe there are more important ways that whānau Māori need to step up to address this issue.

Parents to better support tamariki

A recent report showed Māori were more than twice as likely than non-Māori to report being sexually touched as a child.

It’s estimated that 90 percent of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim.  This could be anyone close to a child, including a caregiver.

A way for parents to prevent child sexual abuse from happening in the first place is by making sure their children are protected from potential perpetrators.

In many cases, I’ve heard female victims being abused by stepfathers or uncles.  So it’s important for mothers to make sure that, if they invite a new partner into their home, that the person can be trusted around their tamariki.

Believe your tamariki

Another issue I‘ve come across has been cases of parents or families denying that child sexual abuse is happening within the whānau, when it is.

Often what happens is that young victims disclose to a parent that they are being sexually abused by another family member.

But instead of listening to and believing their children, parents deny that the abuse has happened and accuse their child of lying in order to protect the perpetrator.

This is wrong in so many ways.  Children should always be a priority for parents to protect.

Victims who are denied support are more likely to struggle with mental health problems later in life.

Inter-generational sexual abuse among Māori

This leads to the next issue; sexual abuse that is perpetuated across successive generations.

Families, again, need to step up and stop the cycle of abuse.

Often whānau Māori feel too whakamā, ashamed, to address the issue when someone in the family is sexually abusing a child, or in some cases, multiple children.

Families need to get over that feeling of embarrassment and prioritise the safety of children over their own reputation as a whānau.

Addressing the issue could also lead to the perpetrator getting help, which could stop the cycle.

Education in kura

When looking closer into the package announced by the government, I was disappointed to see that there wasn’t any specific funding going towards educating children in schools about what sexual violence is.

In order to prevent sexual violence from happening in future generations, rangatahi need to be educated about it.

The responsibility lies with school staff to ensure they are teaching students about sexual violence and healthy relationships within the classroom.

As an educator, what I come across when speaking to students at schools is that most have never been taught about consent or healthy relationships.  Some students don’t even know that an experience that they've had, was, in fact, a form of sexual violence.  Many don’t know there is a law around consent.  As a high school student, I was never taught about it either.

If rangatahi learn about consent and healthy relationships earlier on or before they start being sexually active then less harm is likely to occur in their future relationships.

For example, many don’t realise that both people need to give consent before having sexual intercourse.  The common rules around consent are that all parties involved must be sober, over the age of 16 and they must be awake.

However, incidents such as rape or other forms of sexual violence can occur because people don’t understand the rules around consent.

The future

It's great to see that support services are finally getting more funding from the government.

But for Māori, it's our own responsibility to ensure that sexual violence, especially child sexual abuse, isn't happening within our homes.

And staff at kura need to ensure that our tamariki and rangatahi are better educated on sexual violence to stop it from happening in the future.