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'Dreadful' ACC loophole preventing child sexual abuse victims from qualifying for weekly compensation

An ACC loophole is preventing victims of child sexual abuse from qualifying for weekly compensation.

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If a child doesn't seek help or treatment for abuse before they turn 18., they're not eligible for the ACC payment if they're unable to work because of ongoing mental trauma. Source: 1 NEWS

Under ACC, a person is entitled to ‘Loss of Potential Earnings’ cover for personal injuries sustained before the age of 18 prohibiting or hindering work.

However the Accident Compensation Act 2001 states a person’s mental injury is deemed to occur on the date they first ‘received treatment for your mental injury’.

It means that unless a child comes forward before they turn 18, they are ineligible for the LOPE payments, as the abuse technically happened when they first asked for help as an adult.

1 NEWS has spoken to a woman struggling to establish her claim as she was in her 30s when she started seeking help.

She told 1 NEWS the legislation made her feel it was her own fault for not coming forward sooner.

“I felt that I was being blamed as a child, that it was my fault for not seeking help even though I did try. I did try. I had tried to seek help from my parents, from a teacher, but even as a teenager my mother was always with me. I couldn’t tell the doctor out of fear.”

Source: TVNZ

It can take child victims years to acknowledge their abuse, she said, but some are also scared to speak up at the time.

“Fear of not being believed, fear of being hurt again, fear of nothing being done and it just keeps happening.”

John Miller, a lawyer specialising in ACC, called the legislation "dreadful", hindering victims instead of helping them.

“If you're sexually abused as a child sometimes you can't complain. Sometimes it’ll be in their 20s or 30s before they do. They (ACC) say ‘no, it happened when you were 35 legally’. It’s absolute nonsense.”

He said there is no justification for the legislation’s loophole.

“The whole of ACC for victims is re-victimisation. Sexual abuse victims, particularly children, are treated abominably.”

ACC responded to 1 NEWS’ questions about the legislation via statement and said, "We do offer fully-funded support and treatment for survivors of sexual abuse or assault."

"This support is available for survivors of all ages and people can seek help from us at any time following the incident. Even before having their claim assessed for cover, survivors can access fully-funded therapy and whānau support. For adult survivors (or child survivors once they reach adulthood) other entitlements may include weekly compensation for time off work."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) is responsible for ACC’s legislation and said the system is designed to help people recover from injuries and getting them back to work as soon as possible.

However, for some victims, their abuse is so severe, work is not an option.

“I got my first job as a teenager which involved working around men. I couldn’t cope, I lasted days. As I got older I tried several different jobs and it didn’t work out. I couldn’t cope. I only had a few hours twice a week and I couldn’t even cope with that. It was horrendous for me,” an adult survivor told 1 NEWS.

The victim, who wished to remain anonymous, wants the legislation to be amended so that victims aren’t made to feel responsible for not coming forward sooner.

“I want it changed. If not to help me, to help the multitude of children that are being abused. It’s having a profound affect on their adult life and I want it to change for them.”