Support for child victims of sexual crimes

Published: December 14, 2021

This evidence brief summarises findings from a review of support services available for children and adolescents who are victims of sexual crimes in New Zealand and internationally.


Sexual abuse affects many children in New Zealand. New Zealand and international studies indicate that around one in five females and one in ten males experience some form of sexual abuse before turning 16. There is also evidence that Māori tamariki and rangatahi are more likely to be victims of sexual crimes than non-Māori.

Sexual abuse in childhood can have significant effects on brain development, psychosocial development and overall life trajectory, and it has a large social and economic cost. Negative effects of abuse can be minimised, if people receive effective, specialised support early on.

This evidence brief considers the effectiveness, strengths and limitations of different types of support available, including specific supports that are available for tamariki and rangatahi Māori.

Key findings

The evidence review found that:

  • Support services are largely provided by specialist NGOs, but few specifically cater for the needs of child and youth victims.
  • There is a significant shortage of Kaupapa Māori support services available.
  • Core services available include:
    • prevention programmes (for example group education and awareness raising)
    • crisis support (for example helplines, counselling and referrals to relevant services such as medical specialists and the Police)
    • advocacy for victims with Police, the medical system, the justice system and mental health providers
    • talk-based therapies (for example trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy for longer term recovery).
  • Some additional support is available through the court system and from Oranga Tamariki. This includes pre-trial preparation and court room support, and both Care and Protection and Youth Justice Family Group Conferences.
  • Services are most effective in reducing the long-term impacts of trauma when they are:
    • delivered early or soon after the abuse happens
    • delivered by specialist people and organisations that understand sexual trauma and how to work with young victims 
    • accessible in terms of ease of access and informality
    • well integrated with key government agencies and specialist NGOs
    • supportive, with victims feeling heard, believed and empowered
    • culturally responsive with abuse and recovery framed in ways that resonate with the young people
    • stable and continuous and offer the ability to access known people and services when they need them
    • involve supportive caregivers and whānau.

Next steps

The research will help inform the development of services to support young victims of sexual crime to recover from their experiences and move through the judicial system, including court processes.