When abuse has occurred

When abuse has occurred

Information about what medical services are available for children who have been abused; what happens when a child sees a doctor for sexual abuse and about surviving sexual abuse.

Key points to remember

  • realising child abuse has occurred can be traumatic for all involved
  • nobody knows exactly how much child abuse goes on in the community because so much of it is hidden
  • abuse and neglect need to be treated seriously because their effects can be very harmful and may last a lifetime
  • for the child or young person, a discovery or disclosure of abuse may cause anxiety or fears to arise - it's important for them to know they are believed and safe, and to make sure they have access to the right services
  • know that there are specialist services in the community that can help
  • Child, Youth and Family is the government agency with powers to intervene to protect children who are being abused or neglected - you can call them on 0508 FAMILY (326 459)
  • there is a close relationship between child abuse and family violence
  • if you or your children are affected by family violence, call the Family Violence Information Line on 0800 456 450 to find out about the organisations in your area who can help
  • if you or a child are in immediate danger, call the police on 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries)

Check Child abuse: Directory for information and support - you may find some of the organisations listed helpful. 

What medical services are available for children who have been abused?

Child abuse can be categorised as sexual, physical, emotional or neglect. Sometimes a child has experienced just one form of abuse but we know that there are a proportion of children who will experience more than one form of abuse. There are a number of ways a child can be referred and seen by appropriate services.

For physical abuse

Paediatric services at your local hospital usually see acute cases of physical abuse. Often Child, Youth and Family (CYF) or the police become involved first, and refer the child or young person to a relevant doctor for a physical examination.

For sexual abuse

If you take your child to see a doctor because of a concern about sexual abuse, they should refer you to a doctor who is specially trained in sexual abuse care. Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (DSAC) provides this training for doctors in New Zealand. Some doctors may have received training in sexual abuse care overseas.

In some areas, a paediatrician at the local hospital will be the DSAC trained doctor. In other areas, it will be a GP (general practitioner).

Your family doctor, local accident and emergency clinic, or hospital emergency department should always be able to consult with a DSAC trained doctor. All DSAC doctors are trained in the care of sexual assault victims, and are willing to help you.

The local police or the paediatrician at your local hospital will be able to help you to find a DSAC doctor.

You can contact the DSAC National Office directly during working hours on 09 376 1422. DSAC regional liaison doctors can also refer you to a DSAC doctor in your area. There are DSAC regional liaison doctors throughout New Zealand and these are included on the pamphlet Help for children and for adult survivors of child sexual abuse and assault (PDF, 44KB).

Specialist services in some areas

In some areas, there are dedicated health services for child and adolescent abuse. For example, in Auckland, Te Puaruruhau is a regional service for children and young people in the 0 - 19 age group who have experienced abuse or neglect. This service is located in a multi-agency centre with the New Zealand Police and the Department of Child, Youth and Family. The centre is called Puawaitahi. Referrals to this service will usually be made by your doctor or local hospital, or your local Child, Youth and Family (CYF) or police station. Referrals are also received from school nurses, counsellors, and family members or other concerned adults. Te Puaruruhau can be contacted directly, within New Zealand, during working hours on 09 307 2860.

What happens when my child sees a doctor for sexual abuse?

The Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (DSAC) website provides information for families and children on the medical care and assessment of sexual abuse and assault. Their leaflet Going to the doctor (PDF, 480KB) includes information under the following headings:

  • why does my child need to see a doctor?
  • what sort of doctor will my child see?
  • what happens in the examination?
  • what tests are needed?
  • will the examination hurt?
  • what genital (or anal) injuries are likely?
  • can there be any permanent problems?
  • can I ask questions and discuss worries?
  • what other agencies need to be involved?
  • who will be given information about the examination?

Thumbnail image of a leaflet

Surviving sexual abuse

Counselling may help the healing process for a child or young person who has been the victim of abuse. As this is a very specialised area, wherever possible, your child should see an approved counsellor who has experience in this area.

Sometimes a child doesn't want to see someone immediately. They can choose to see a counsellor at a later date.

ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) provides ACC-approved counsellors for children who have been sexually abused and can help with some of the costs of counselling. You can find registered counsellors by region, including ACC-approved sexual abuse counsellors, at the ACC website. For ACC contact details, see Child abuse: Directory for information and support.

You can contact your local Citizens' Advice Bureau for details of local crisis counselling services, as these differ from centre to centre.

See the DSAC (Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care) website for a range of patient brochures, including:

  • Surviving sexual assault: The road to recovery (PDF, 42KB) which includes information under the following headings:
    • what is sexual assault?
    • sexual assault always involves the misuse of power and is a crime
    • is the attacker always a stranger?
    • there is help available for those who have been sexually assaulted or abused – no matter how long ago it happened
    • emotional care/counselling
    • physical care
    • what can the doctor do?
    • practical care
    • where to get help
    • DSAC regional coordinators (contact details)
  • Help for children and for adult survivors of child sexual abuse and assault (PDF, 44KB) which includes information under the following headings:
    • what is child sexual abuse or assault?
    • what children are at risk?
    • who does this to children?
    • what help is needed?
    • who can give this help?
    • sexual abuse is a hidden problem
    • where to seek help
    • DSAC regional coordinators (contact details)

This page last reviewed 06 November 2013.
Email us your feedback

On this page