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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/our-work/interventions/family-group-conferencing/youth-justice-family-group-conference/supporting-a-victim-survivor-of-sexual-violence-in-a-youth-justice-family-group-conference/
Printed: 19/05/2024
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Last updated: 22/05/2023

Supporting a victim survivor of sexual violence in a youth justice family group conference

Youth justice coordinators consider how they deliberately tailor their approach when supporting victim survivors of sexual violence of all ages through the youth justice system to minimise further trauma and ensure the oranga of all participants.

Nature of sexual violence

Sexual violence affects all aspects of oranga (wellbeing). Everyone's response will be different and it's important to consider:

  • the imbalance of power, and whānau or family relationships
  • grooming and manipulation that can continue, alongside harm caused
  • blackmail, veiled threats and gaslighting (which is psychological manipulation where the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in their victim's mind).

Youth justice coordinators need to be aware of these behaviours, and their impact on the victim survivor, as we engage in the youth justice family group conference. 

We enable and support the victim survivor to get specialist support from a professional they trust.

Definition: Sexual abuse

Principles of Good Practice | TOAH-NNEST Good Practice

Inclusive Practice | TOAH-NNEST Good Practice

Working with victim survivors who are Māori

Use Te Toka Tūmoana when working with victim survivors tamariki, rangatahi and whānau Māori. We consult with our kairaranga ā-whānau or senior Māori staff members of the equal employment opportunity (EEO) rōpū, and work with them to understand the tikanga and kawa of the victim survivor and their whānau with whom we are building a relationship.

Working with Māori: Te Toka Tūmoana

Staff resource: Māori networks | Te Pae

Working with victim survivors and their Pacific families

We apply the Va'aifetū principles in combination with the cultural approach relevant to the Pacific victim survivor child or young person and family we are working with.

We connect with the right cultural advisor to support our understanding of the child or young person and their family and ensure we have the right people involved who can support the victim survivor child or young person and their family, or adult victim survivor.  

We can also seek support and guidance from our Pacific EEO collectives across the country:

  • Auckland Pacific Islands Network (APIN)
  • Nesian Vaka Tautua (Midlands Collective)
  • Pacific Elevation (South Island Collective)
  • Leo Pasifika (Wellington and Central Collective)

Staff resource: Pacific networks | Te Pae

In Pacific cultures, it is important to identify gender-appropriate people to work with the victim survivor and their family. Also, due to the sensitive nature of sexual abuse, it is culturally inappropriate to have female and male family members discussing together the victim survivor's experience.

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū

Working with families from tauiwi and other ethnic communities

Aotearoa New Zealand has a culturally diverse population, and our work includes people from a wide range of ethnic groups, diverse communities and different backgrounds.

Coordinators seek appropriate support depending on the community the victim survivor identifies with. By understanding the cultural or social context of all those affected by the sexual violence, we are better able to uphold their mana. Consider how to seek and share the views of people who can’t participate in discussions.

Use an interpreter or mode of communication that is most appropriate for the family, so they understand the process and we fully understand their support needs. The family needs to agree to the use of an interpreter and approve the person identified.

Understanding the impact of sexual violence in preparing for the family group conference

When mana has been trampled and tapu has been violated, deeper consideration of kawa (protocols) is required. Coordinators engage wider expertise if they need to, especially specialist support, cultural advice and cultural support. We consult with the youth justice family group conference team leader and practice leader, alongside others – for example, guidance and advice from kaumātua or elders about the impact of harm and culturally appropriate ways to help restore mana and balance. It is critical to be aware of the significance of mana and whakapapa for both the victim survivor and their whānau or family, as well as te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused the harm and their whānau or family. We seek advice about addressing issues of tapu and noa from cultural experts as required.

We use relational, inclusive and restorative practices with the family, whānau, hapū, iwi, family group and their networks so they can help develop plans that build on the whānau or family’s strengths.

We are clear about the risks we are worried about, but we use a wider oranga (wellbeing) lens to encourage any changes needed within the whānau or family to secure the stability, safety and oranga of te tamaiti or rangatahi victim survivor.

When te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused the harm is a member of the victim survivor's whānau or family, we work in relational ways with the whānau or family to find ways to strengthen the oranga of all.

Whānau or family do not have to agree about how past harm happened, but they need to understand what is required to keep everyone safe in the future and build oranga for the victim survivor and their whānau or family and for te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused harm and their whānau or family.

We can't support a whānau or family to strengthen and sustain oranga without a robust understanding of the risks of harm as well as any mitigating protective factors that are present.

Collaboration across and within Oranga Tamariki and Police

The youth justice coordinator needs a collaborative working relationship with Police so that, when they consult, the coordinator can be confident that a youth justice response is the most appropriate pathway.

Specific situations may mean that both Police and Oranga Tamariki have multiple roles, including a Child Protection Protocol joint investigation and assessment, as well as a youth justice response.

Youth justice coordinators consult with care and protection kaimahi (such as a social worker, specialist child interviewer, and coordinator where relevant) to understand the processes and the dynamics of the situation. If a care and protection family group conference has been held or is planned, then both processes should inform each other, and the plans should be aligned and not contradict each other. For example, the youth justice process will be informed by a care and protection family group conference outcome, whether it is a plan that includes a safety plan, or where there has been non-agreement.

When our social work assessment identifies that harmful sexual behaviour is involved, and the victim survivor is a tamaiti who is most likely to be represented by their parent or caregiver, it may be helpful for the youth justice coordinator to be engaged early in the process. This is negotiated at a local level and could be before a youth aid referral is made. Working together, Oranga Tamariki and Police can:

  • fully explain the family group conference process to the victim survivor and their whānau or family
  • ensure timely referrals are made
  • streamline the different service responses
  • make specialist support available for all participants.

Coordinators check that the whānau or family and all participants are not overwhelmed with too much information at once or by what could feel like a complex process.

Concerning or harmful sexual behaviour

Reports of concern about sexualised behaviour

Partner agencies for victim support

Sexual Harm Crisis Support Services (supporting victim survivors) are available across the country. Consult with them for advice and guidance before contacting the victim survivor. It is important to consult with support services for both victim survivors and those support services working with te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused the harm.

Talk with a specialist working in the sexual violence field and consider the relationship between the victim survivor and te tamaiti or rangatahi, any power imbalance, their age, developmental factors, disabilities, and coercive behaviours. Coercive and other abusive or manipulative behaviours can come from te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused harm, the people supporting them, or from the victim survivor's whānau or family. These will need to be actively managed to avoid further harm and trauma to the victim survivor.

Find a local sexual violence support service | TOAH-NNEST

Timeframes and the restorative processes

Surviving and healing from sexual violence takes time. It also takes time for te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused the harm to understand the impact of their actions. Within the youth justice system there are statutory timeframes to support timeliness when working with tamariki and rangatahi who have offended. While these are appropriate to ensure a response within te tamaiti or rangatahi timeframes, when sexual violence is involved, we need to understand and balance the need for a restorative, therapeutic response which may not align with the statutory timeframes.

Therapeutic healing is likely to take longer, and require more intensive, culturally appropriate support – a letter of apology is not appropriate at this early stage.

Coordinators can delay holding a family group conference for ‘special reasons’ – for example, where an entitled member who wishes to attend is unable to or when there is evidence that a delay would enable a better outcome for all involved. We access advice and support from Legal Services when special reasons may apply, ensuring consistency with the principles and purposes under the Oranga Tamariki Act. If special reasons do not apply, a conference can be convened and held within the statutory timeframes, and the conference can then decide to reconvene later – for example, to consider a specialist assessment, which may take several weeks to be completed, or so a specialist restorative justice process can be undertaken.

For victim survivors who are tamariki or rangatahi Māori, the ‘unnatural balance’ caused by the offending must be restored. Restoring balance from a te ao Māori perspective involves resetting the mauri and restoring mana for individuals and the whānau. This is also crucial for the protection of uri whakatipu (future generations).

We support the victim survivor when we:

  • are mindful in how we build relationships and keep everyone informed about the process
  • accept that restorative justice can be an achievable longer-term goal – the youth justice family group conference sets the foundation for that to happen, but the family group conference plan cannot be expected to deliver a restorative outcome
  • acknowledge that we may not be fully aware of all the hidden behaviours that te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused the harm may have used to enable the harm to occur, such as manipulation, grooming, blackmail, intimidation, or veiled threats
  • allow the victim survivor multiple safe spaces and mechanisms throughout the process to have their voice heard in the way they choose
  • acknowledge that the outcome or plan itself may change over time and multiple family group conferences may be required, as the healing process continues for all participants
  • seek support for ourselves, as coordinators, to ensure we are tika and pono to the process and protecting the oranga of all involved.

Project Restore – restorative justice following sexual violence

When adults who have sexually abused have contact with tamariki or rangatahi

Seeking the victim survivor’s views

Sexual violence impacts everyone differently. Sexual violence may impact on oranga (wellbeing) at every level – psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, physically and environmentally. It also impacts on whānau or family who are supporting both the victim survivor and te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused the harm. Some impacts will come and go and are obvious to see, while others remain hidden until triggered. Our aim in seeking the views of the victim survivor needs to be clear – to give voice to the victim survivor on their terms – or it risks causing them further trauma and revictimisation. Communicating the impact of the harm to the family group conference can be an early part of the healing process, but it isn't sufficient to restore balance for the victim survivor or te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused the harm.

When seeking the views of the victim survivor, we consider the following:

  • Before contacting the victim survivor directly, find out what supports have been put in place by any agency if already involved. If no supports have been put in place, advocate for this to occur. Consult with care and protection colleagues and specialists who may have been involved.
  • If the victim survivor is under the age of 18, we contact their legal guardian to explore the best way forward. Assess the victim survivor’s developmental level and age. If they are younger, have a disability or are too traumatised to share their views, someone they trust can represent and support them. If the victim survivor and their whānau or family are not receiving specialist sexual violence support, then advocate for this to occur. This referral will help us keep the victim survivor’s rights and needs at the forefront of convening and holding the youth justice family group conference.
  • When victim survivors are older rangatahi and are willing and able to share their views, we should understand that they might want to protect their parents, whānau or family. Discussions should be at their pace and with the support person they choose. We seek the victim survivor’s permission if we want to talk with their support person about processes, provide updates or ask for advice.
  • The victim survivor’s understanding and opinions may change over this time, including their chosen representative, so we seek their feedback often and acknowledge that it is ok for them to change their mind.

Holding the youth justice family group conference

Safety is more than physical safety. Often te tamaiti or rangatahi who caused the harm, and the victim survivor, are the only ones who understand the level of force, grooming and coercion that occurred. Therefore, if the victim survivor chooses to attend, careful planning is required with venue, seating, entry and exits.

Consider the dual roles some whānau or family members might hold – supporting te tamaiti or rangatahi as well as the victim survivor can be complex. Potentially, there may be other victim survivors or offenders in the wider whānau or family. Allow for lots of space and time.

The summary of facts should be shared with the victim survivor before the family group conference – for example, as part of the convening process at the home visit. Sharing the summary of facts could be very triggering for victim survivors – we discuss with them, their support person and our supervisor, if necessary, the different options for how this information can be presented, and be culturally appropriate, to minimise the risk of further trauma. The youth justice coordinator records how and when this information is shared. 

Ask the youth advocate how te tamaiti or rangatahi plans to plead. Share this with the victim survivor so they are prepared.

The youth justice family group conference is governed by legislation and can be confusing. Ensure that all support people, along with whānau or family, others involved and victim survivors (entitled people), are given the same information about the process.

Family group conferencing practice standards