Extreme loss: A 14-year-old is pushing for education to help young people speak up about violence in the home. Photo: Steven SiewertOne is a 14-year-old girl who wants the NSW government to know that if domestic violence had been better addressed in school, she would have recognised that what was happening inside her own home was not normal.
The other is a 55-year-old grandmother who, through the tragic death of her daughter, discovered there is no appropriate framework in place to prevent abusive parents gaining automatic custody of children.
As the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) was preparing to launch a new national initiative to tackle domestic violence on Friday, these two women unveiled separate online campaigns, both of which highlight the hidden victims of household abuse – and how authorities repeatedly fail them.
Nathan Elvery, from Change.org, said: “These two petitions are among the most powerful we have seen on our platform to date.”
In a confronting letter that she compiled on her grandmother’s laptop, following her mother’s suicide last month, Rachel* has called on the NSW Department of Education and Communities to “educate children about domestic violence and how to seek help.”
“I am 14 years old and I have been a victim of domestic violence. I didn’t know that what happened in my home was different to any other family home, as a child how could I have known any better?” she asked.
The youngster revealed how she, her three brothers and her mother had been the victims of ongoing abuse, adding: “I wanted help but didn’t know how to get it.”
Following a “major” domestic violence incident last year, the family became homeless for nine months. “The police were involved this time and that’s when I realised how serious domestic violence is,” she said.
Despite eventually finding a new home, Rachel said her family remained “silent sufferers of never-ending sadness” and that when the violence returned, her mother was no longer able to cope.
“If domestic violence was addressed within the public schools educational criteria, I could have gotten help and saved my mum,” she said, adding that if the NSW education system teaches students to recognise what is wrong, they “will begin to speak up and get the help their family needs.”
When the Baird government and Labor rolled out their extensive policy plans to combat domestic violence before the NSW election last month, neither featured any changes to the existing school syllabus. A spokesman for the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards said the syllabus “supports student learning and understanding of a broad range of personal safety and health issues, including respectful relationships.”
Rachel’s grandmother, who is now her full-time guardian, said: “She’s an extremely bright, intelligent young girl who feels, very strongly, that something good has to come out of this situation. If she can stop one other child from going through what she went through, she’ll be happier. She asked me whether the government might even allow her to attend classrooms so she could talk to other children…that’s how determined she is to improve the situation…and make a difference.”
Like Rachel, 55-year-old Louise* is grieving after losing a loved one to suicide. Having witnessed her deceased daughter’s abusive ex-partner receive automatic custody of her grandchildren, she is hoping to harness enough people power to pressure authorities into find new ways of better protecting vulnerable children.
“My daughter was the victim of physical, psychological and financial abuse for 11 years,” said Louise, who added: “She often cried, ashamed that her children had witnessed their father repeatedly and violently beating her as well as seeing the constant psychological manipulation.”
“Her forgiveness and commitment to her family were her undoing. She paid his bail, police fines and withdrew the AVOs, believing if she tried harder, she could change him and avoid further abuse.”
Louise said that for the previous two years, both her daughter and grandchildren had resided with her, but added: “Her ex-partner was relentless. Each time the abuse and manipulation occurred, it became more destroying.”
One day last September, Louise was informed that her daughter had failed to pick up the children from school. A short time later, her worst fears were confirmed. She said that in the months since, authorities had made the father full-time guardian, without even as much as a glance at police reports and a “violent documented past.”
“When my daughter died, he took the children from a loving environment, our and their home.
“He agreed to let me organise counselling for the two littlies. But when they contacted him, he closed it all down.”
Louise wants authorities to know there is “there is nothing in place” to protect her grandchildren and hundreds like them”.
“I fear the day when my granddaughter turns around and says ‘grandma, why did you allow me to live with him?”
* Not their real names
For support and information about suicide prevention or domestic violence, contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14 National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732Other guidance and support resources for women can be found here.
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