Many years ago, I worked for the (recently closed) White Ribbon Foundation, which worked toward the elimination of violence against women. The statistic that haunted me then - and continues to today - is that 1 in 4 Australian women will experience abuse by a partner in their lifetime.
In today’s age – of #MeToo, #TimesUp and all the woke culture we can handle – the statistic remains the same. A quarter of all women – across all sections of society – will be impacted by domestic violence. And it must change.
Today is that day, and in recognition, renowned skincare brand Biologi is donating 100% of their online store profits from all sales to RizeUp (as well as opening up a channel for donations of all amounts through their website). With Biologi’s own Managing Director, Lucy Kuper, having experienced domestic violence at the hands of a previous partner, it was a cause that Biologi felt compelled to support.
In addition to this, they have enlisted ambassadors who are bravely sharing their moving, heartbreaking, remarkable stories of survival. One such woman is Simone O’Brien, who so generously shared her story with us.
The 44-year-old mother of three’s journey started in 2012, when she suffered a horrific attack at the hands of a perpetrator who would not take “no” for an answer. It started with emotional and psychological abuse, and ended with an extreme fight for survival, as you’ll read in her story below.
Having undergone over 50 lifesaving surgeries, and with her perpetrator being sentenced to 15 years in jail, Simone is now not only a survivor, but an advocate for women against violence. It was a privilege to hear Simone’s incredible story.
If you or someone you know requires support, please contact RizeUp.
Can you tell us about your own childhood? Where did you grow up? What dreams did you have for your future?
I was born and bred in a little town called Dimboola in country Victoria. I was very good at all different sports – tennis, basketball, running. My dream was to be a professional tennis player.
Tell us about your own three beautiful children.
I have Gabby – 22 (15), Ashlyn – 19 (12) and Zac – 16 (10).
Gabby has just finished her uni degree as a high school teacher, and has 2 job opportunities. So proud to see her turn her life around.
Ashlyn is going a beauty course. The attack has really affected Ashlyn.
Zac is doing year 11 and has been asked if he would like to do a school base apprenticeship next year.
My children have had a tough time getting through the ordeal. Ashlyn is still affected today with depression and anxiety to the extent that she didn’t want to live. But on a positive – Gabby has turned her life around, after she took blame for what happened to me and has just finished her degree. Zac has realised what domestic violence is and is speaking up about it as well. He is very protective of myself.
You entered into a new relationship at age 37. Can you share how this relationship began?
It began through a dating site. We only started texting, then phone calls and then going on a date.
How did the relationship progress? You talked about some of the little red flags you saw. Can you share more about this?
It progressed by talking. Then once we had been on a first day, it progressed into a normal relationship. But when my contacts were being deleted, it was weird, as prior in my life this had never happened with my children. So I really took notice of this red flag, then the flowers at work each day. It made me feel sick. I didn’t like to be controlled.
Are you able to share what happened when you ended the relationship on that awful night?
When I ended the relationship that day, I didn’t speak to him except for a text message. Then he knew I would be home at that time of night, hence why he came to the home. Prior to the visit, I felt really good in myself, it was a relief I ended it. We moved into the bedroom once I opened the door to him to show him respect, as that’s how I was bought up. Then the last thing I remembered is the bat breaking my arm, as it was on the floor, and asking my children to go and get me help. I thought I was going to die.
Who came to help you? What happened next?
My children and neighbours came to my rescue. They put their life on hold til the services came and kept me alive. Now I have so much respect for every different person as we need to work together to stop this epidemic. In ten minutes (from 6:06 to 6:16) I had received 45-50 blows to the face with a baseball bat.
You were (are!) a single mother who did (and does!) everything. Raised children, could fix anything your home, have a career … Was it surprising that this horrific incident happened to you?
It has made me love and respect myself and I’m not embarrassed to say that. It’s so surprising the amount of support I get, it’s unbelievable. It has been fantastic for my healing and self-confidence.
You’ve had 52 operations since that evening. How have you maintained strength, resilience and optimism throughout such an incredibly painful ordeal?
I’ve taken that never give up attitude – stay positive, never give up and keep smiling. I didn’t and don’t want it to beat me. I want to just be able to help the next person. To prove to them to not give up – I’ve gone from the brink of death to running the world’s biggest marathon in the world to prove to women and children we can do this.
There are many misconceptions about domestic violence. That it only happens to certain women. That it only takes on a particular form. What do you wish to tell people about the reality of domestic violence?
Please speak up about it. Don’t be embarrassed. There is support to help you through this.
After the court hearing, 2 wives came forward after he told me he hadn’t been married. He had assaulted them both and they didn’t report it. I wouldn’t be in this position if they had. It’s so important to speak up so we can save our next generation coming through.
The White Ribbon Foundation (for the prevention of violence against women) sadly closed its doors this year. What can we all do - now this iconic charity has dissipated - to support women who have experienced domestic violence?
We can all still make a change each and every day, by working together and talking about the issues. We all have mums, aunts, grans, sisters, daughters, so let’s all join as a team and stop this monster.
What are your thoughts about prevention and education around violence against women with our children?
Prevention and education are a must. As I have said, myself and my children didn’t know about domestic violence. If we can talk about it, we can potentially save more people by teaching them to look at the red flags.
You say you’ve turned a negative into a positive for yourself and your family. You’re a complete inspiration. How have you found the strength to do this? Who has supported you?
Turning this situation into a positive has made myself feel absolutely fantastic. Having that never give up attitude makes me more determined. Running has been my best friend as in it clears my mind. I’ve actually been my own big support as I can see success in what I’m doing. My friends and work colleagues have all stood by me, which is a huge part of my life. My children are my world and they have been my reasoning for turning it into a positive as I wanted to be as good as mum as I can be.
You’re passionate about telling women to speak up. How can we start to spark these important conversations in our friendship groups?
Just by asking are you ok, especially if you notice someone isn’t their normal self. Don’t just ask once or twice, ask 5 or 6 times and they will open up or let a little red flag slip and then you can help.
Where can women find help?
People can find help in lots of places. RizeUp, Domestic Violence Connect, police, Beyond Domestic Violence, Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, 1800 Respect.