No Help At All

By Jim McVeagh 27/04/2010


Some newspaper articles cause me to wonder what is NOT being said. The Herald today runs the headline:

Denied help for sexual abuse, dead days later

A review of new rules for sexual abuse counseling has come too late to save a South Auckland mother who died four days after her claim for ACC-funded counselling was rejected.

Counselling Services Centre manager Emma Castle said the mother-of-three’s claim for counselling for sexual abuse she had suffered as a child was rejected by ACC two months ago on the grounds that she had not suffered “a significant mental injury”.

“The counsellor who submitted the claim made it very clear that sexual abuse was the reason why she had suicidal ideation and was self-harming,” Ms Castle said. “It took them six months to make that decision. Four days after receiving notification that the ACC claim was denied, the client passed away.”

Now, the impression being given here is that this poor woman’s death is linked to ACC’s denial of her claim. Yet the language used is peculiarly flat. “Dead”, “died”, “passed away”; not “killed herself” or “committed suicide”. Only if she terminated her own life deliberately, would this be related to ACCs denial of her claim (and would seriously call into question their judgement that this lady had not suffered “a significant mental injury” – 95% of suicides have a major depressive illness). It is possible, of course, that she had fatally destroyed her health by abuse of alcohol or drugs. This certainly might be related to her history of sexual abuse and would explain the curious nature of the language used here; attempting to maintain privacy. However, while such a death would undeniably be a tragedy, it would be manifestly inappropriate to treat such a severe addiction with the type of counseling that ACC provides. ACC’s denial of claim would therefore be irrelevant to the story and the ACC review will in no way change this.

Journalists often try to pass this sort of half-information off as adding “human interest” to the story. In reality, however, they are really trying to slant the article by using human anecdotes rather than a factual argument. In most cases, this seems to be because they do not have a factual case to make, either because there is no case, or because they do not know or understand the argument. This unfortunate woman’s tragic story takes on an entirely artificial meaning, the result of which is that it becomes subject to analyses such as mine or even derogatory comment, simply because the premise behind the argument is false. This is not fair on the poor woman concerned who deserves none of this.

This sort of anecdotal innuendo might effectively counter the logical arguments of ACC, but it does nothing to uncover the true problem here. As I have blogged on a previous post, the problem is that ACC is being used to fund societal ills rather than simple accidents. The reality here is that only a complete idiot (or a government) would attempt to fund treatment for sexual abuse cases via an accident insurance scheme. Inevitably, when the insurance scheme is short of cash – around about NOW – they will start to act more like the insurance scheme they were set up to be. They will insist that there is an accidental event and an injury. While absolutely no-one would dispute that sexual abuse is accidental (in the sense that no-one, except a very small selection of consenting adults, would deliberately seek it), it is the injury that causes so much problem. As with any injury, it has to be clearly defined and coded (just as a knee injury would be) and there can be no pre-existing condition. Patients with a history of previous mental illness before the abuse and patients who have no definable mental health problems will be excluded. The difficulty in establishing these things will inevitably result in enormous delays. This is simply not acceptable.

The solution to this is to remove the funding for sexual abuse and give it directly to the mental health services. They should be much better able to determine proper priority and treatment and are not constrained by an act that is clearly designed for accidents rather than abuse. I do not know whether the Mental Health or Drug and Alcohol Services could have helped this woman, but I do know that they could have done a much better job than ACC. They were no help at all. And could never have been.

Related posts:

  1. Accidental Rape?
  2. ACC and Sex
  3. Mental Problems