I dream of a world without suffering.
I was born into domestic violence with a front-row seat to unhealthy relationships, intimidation tactics, and emotional, verbal and physical abuse. The cycle of violence continued into my early relationships, when I unwittingly dated aggressive, controlling and abusive partners.
I grew up in Sydney in the ’80s; at that time, the Australian Institute of Criminology noted that as many as one in three families were living with domestic violence. The report went on to say our attitudes towards domestic violence were almost at the point of a “normal, expected behavior pattern in society”. It’s because of this that people relate to my story; they know it well, as it likely happened to them, their parent or their grandparent.
Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of women and children who’ve experienced abuse. One that still resonates with me was that of 14-year-old Angela. She was harassed by a group of older boys, and even though it made her angry, she just kept saying ‘What could I have done?’. The answer I gave to her was this: “There’s nothing that could have been done about that day. We all do the best we can with the life experience and knowledge we have. Be kind to yourself, acknowledge your inexperience and accept your response, and please, I beg of you, have compassion for your choices and give yourself permission to heal and move forward.”
More than 20 years ago, I was experiencing the same powerlessness and asking myself the same question, but I never found an answer until a few years later.
I wanted to learn how to protect myself, so I decided to train in martial arts, and I’ve now been involved in the sport for more than 15 years. It gave me confidence, resilience and courage, and taught me how to defend myself against attacks – knowledge every woman and child should have. But, unfortunately, not everybody has access to these types of services, which is why I founded the KYUP! Project. I now host workshops to teach self-defence principles to children and women of all ages, leaving them with newfound confidence to identify and address any inappropriate or scary situations.
At the start, owning my personal story and letting go of my fears was a stumbling block; fear of failure, fear of success, fear my family wouldn’t understand, fear people would judge me, fear my friends would tire of hearing about my mission. Now I know the benefits of speaking out far outweigh any fears I had, and I’ve been overwhelmed with support from family, friends and even strangers.
My voice is my platform to make a difference, and I’m no longer afraid to use it.
Melanie Thomas is a writer, speaker, educator and advocate for children living with domestic violence. She’s also founder of the KYUP! Project, violence-prevention education that is giving girls a voice. Follow her journey on Instagram.
Comment: How is your community helping to prevent domestic violence?