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SA Health at odds with review claiming teenage sexual assault victim turned away

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An independent inquiry has found that South Australia’s only state-funded support service for rape and sexual assault victims has experienced “capacity issues”, with at least one vulnerable girl turned away in the past year – but SA Health insists that no-one was denied support.

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The service – called Yarrow Place – is part of the Women’s and Children’s Health Network and provides free and confidential support to people aged over 16 who have been raped or sexually assaulted.

It also assists children under the guardianship of the Department for Child Protection who are at risk of sexual exploitation.

A recent independent inquiry into the Department for Child Protection found that at least one girl in state care had been turned away from Yarrow Place in the past 12 months.

According to former District Court judge Paul Rice’s report into the Department for Child Protection, released last month, the Department referred a 13-year-old sexual assault victim in state care to Yarrow Place in March last year – three months after her assault.

However, Rice wrote that “due to capacity issues she was not seen at that time”.

InDaily asked SA Health to respond to Rice’s finding and to outline how many other people – including children – had been turned away from Yarrow Place over the past 12 months.

The director of the Women’s and Children’s Health Network’s youth and women’s safety division, Katrina Dee, said “all women and young people who contact Yarrow Place will receive the support and care they require”.

“Yarrow Place has measures available to address changes in demand and will not turn away a person in need,” she said.

“The team is also able to provide phone or telehealth support to people who have experienced sexual assault and are unable to attend the office in North Adelaide or one of the regional locations.”

A SA Health spokesperson told InDaily that “no one has been unable to receive support” from Yarrow Place and they were unable to comment on Rice’s funding.

The Department for Child Protection declined to respond to questions from InDaily asking how many other referrals to Yarrow Place had been turned down due to capacity issues.

“We do not comment on individual cases,” a department spokesperson said.

“It is important to note that DCP relies on a range of services to provide therapeutic interventions for children and young people in care and on occasion there are waiting lists for these services.”

Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink told Parliament last month that Yarrow Place had received more referrals since COVID-19 restrictions had lifted.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman told Parliament on Wednesday that the State Government had also recently provided $1 million to Yarrow Place to provide sexual assault support services to women across the state.

But shadow Minister for Women Katrine Hildyard described Rice’s finding as “alarming”.

“Yarrow Place’s services are absolutely crucial to those who have experienced sexual assault,” she said.

“South Australians need to know that it is available and need to know what on earth went wrong in relation to this girl seeking support at the most difficult time.

“For the sake of children in care and all who seek the support of Yarrow Place, the Minister must urgently address this issue and advise whether this capacity issue has been resolved.”

It comes after up to 8000 women’s justice protestors flooded Victoria Square and marched down King William Street on Monday as part of a nationwide protest calling for an end to gendered violence.

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