WARNING: This story contains details of sexual abuse that may be distressing
A young New Zealand girl who was raped by her stepfather in Australia for several years has been denied taxpayer-funded therapy as an adult because the abuse didn’t happen on home soil and she lived overseas at the time.
The victim, now 42, has suffered ill mental health for much of her life due to the sexual abuse she endured as a child.
She has made multiple attempts on her life and was admitted to an inpatient mental health unit in her early 20s.
In 2019, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) accepted the woman’s application for funded therapy sessions – but several months later it backpedalled.
Now the woman, whose name is suppressed, has turned to the District Court to appeal against ACC’s decision to deny her the cover.
According to the recently released decision, ACC noted the abuse occurred while the woman was living in Australia and told her it could provide cover only for injuries – whether those injuries were mental or physical – that happened in New Zealand, or that occurred to people who would ordinarily live in New Zealand at the time the event occurred.
Generally, for a person to qualify as an “ordinary resident” they must not have been absent from the country for more than six months, it told her.
The woman was born in New Zealand, where she has lived for most of her life apart from the few years she was in Australia as a child.
She was aged 7 when she and her mother left New Zealand and moved across the Tasman to live with her stepfather.
Within a year of arriving there, he began abusing her. The abuse continued until she was about 9.
She permanently returned to New Zealand as a pre-teen.
In her appeal to the District Court, the woman’s lawyer, Mike Kletzkin, argued that the date of the injury is technically classed as the day on which the woman first sought treatment – which is when she was living in New Zealand years later.
“The respondent’s assertion regarding the country in which the incident occurred is irrelevant as at the date of injury, when the claim was lodged, the appellant was a full-time resident of New Zealand,” he submitted.
Kletzkin also argued that at the time the woman was being abused, she had a permanent place of residence in New Zealand with her biological father.
He was granted full custody of her when she returned to New Zealand.
But Judge Ian Carter, who presided over the case, said in his decision that there was scarce evidence from the woman and her mother about the living arrangements in Australia, including how long they intended to stay.
“There is no evidence of any formal or informal joint custody or shared parenting agreement, and no documentation has been provided about any of that,” he said.
Judge Carter said the girl and her mother had spent a “virtually continuous” time in Australia for more than three years which suggested it was their permanent home.
“A very small proportion of that time was spent in New Zealand comprising a single two-week visit to the appellant’s father,” he said.
The “short, single visit” to her father was consistent with the woman not having a permanent place of residence at his home in New Zealand, the judge ruled.
On that basis, he declined her appeal of ACC’s decision to not provide cover for mental injury.
The woman was contacted for comment.
Where to get help: If it’s an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you’ve ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone, contact Safe to Talk confidentially, any time 24/7: • Call 0800 044 334
• Text 4334 • Email [email protected]
• For more info or to web chat visit safetotalk.nz Alternatively contact your local police station – click here for a list.
If you have been sexually assaulted, remember it’s not your fault.
SUICIDE AND DEPRESSION
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7) • Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906 • Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234
• What’s Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm) • Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
• Helpline: Need to talk? Call or text 1737 If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111
Jeremy Wilkinson is an Open Justice reporter based in Manawatū covering courts and justice issues with an interest in tribunals. He has been a journalist for nearly a decade and has worked for NZME since 2022.