photography by Belinda Mason

“What I have realised, throughout the recovery, I am who I am, because whether you like it or not, I’ll never change who I am for anyone. It’s like you’re locked in your mind. And no body can grasp the reality that your dealing with and even yourself. And as you’re coming back to reality more then you’re able to express yourself better. You begin to be able to piece it all back together in your mind. Life begins to make sense again. It’s like you’re locked in your mind. This all happened, begin with relationships, I developed a year and a half previously and he was, like, I was one of the cool chicks in town and he was in the cool bad boy in town. I just thought it was a natural progression that we should be together. I was only sixteen. At the first court case the judge said that there wasn’t not that bad. As it wasn’t premeditated in his eyes. So he only got 5 years jail sentence but the DPP and my parents appealed it and we brought it to 10 years. It’s just that this is my life, that he was making a judgement on. As before this happened I was very fit, young, athletic, intelligent human being. My life, I believe I had a lot of potential to be someone really influential. What actually happened was he strangled me and repeatedly bashed the back of my skull on a steal box in the school grounds where lunch took place. The doctors had told my parents the back my skull was equivalent to jelly. He jumped and broke my jaw and jumped on my face and left a foot print on my cheek. I was in hospital for over two and a half years, three years it felt like a lifetime. Everyone physically tries to express how they’re feeling inside and we do feel that we have the need to cry often because of everything we’ve been through and continue to go through.”

– Anj Barker, Australia 2015

At 16, her life changed forever when she was brutally bashed to near death by her ex-boyfriend on the grounds of the school she attended. She suffered severe brain injury and spent 3 grueling years in hospital, rehab and a nursing home before being able to return home, still needing full time care. The government released a DVD in 2004 based on Anj’s story called ‘ Loves Me, Loves Me Not’ as part of the Federal Government Campaign ‘Violence Against Women, Australia Says No’, which went to every school in Australia. Despite the enormous challenges she faces daily, Anj is determined to open the hearts and minds of others. She campaigns and educates the public on anti-violence, talking to Students, Men, Women, Health Workers, Police and Politicians. Anj empowers others to say ‘no’ to violence, by advocating respectful relationships. Anj  is a highly inspirational and motivated young woman who grew up in country Victoria in a town called Benalla. Anj has accomplished a great deal as a survivor of a domestic violence incident in 2002 which left her with a severe brain injury which doctors informed her family she would not recover from. Since then, Anj has made a tremendous recovery and was the Victorian Young Australian of the Year 2011 and the US Embassy’s candidate put forward for the International Woman of Courage award in Washington in 2011 and this year she received the Rotary Southern District ‘Shine On’ Award  and the NAPCAN’s Play Your Part Award. Anj represented Australia at the International Women’s Health Coalition in New York in 2007, this also included two days at the UN. Her strength and determination has allowed her to speak to tens of thousands of students about relationship violence . Anj has also been a voice for young people in nursing homes and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). –

Violence against women – be it physical, sexual, emotional abuse – is appallingly endemic in 21st Century Australia and around the world. Nearly two Australian women were killed by their partners every week last year.

Violence against women is known by many names and comes in many forms – family and domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, unwanted kissing and sexual touching, rape, sex-trafficking, homophobia, threats against children, femicide. And although there is a public perception that our streets and entertainment strips are where the problem exists; women usually experience violence and abuse at the hands of men they know, often, in their own homes, and often, repeatedly, sometimes over many years, if not a lifetime.

For survivors like Anj Barker the consequence of this violence is life-shattering and the impacts can last a lifetime. Long-term physical and mental health issues, disability, work disruptions and job losses, homelessness, premature death, loss of caring support – these are just some of the issues victims and survivors have to manage in their daily lives.

Violence against women is inextricably linked to gender inequality. Norms and behaviours that support rigid gender roles and gender stereotyping persist in our society and perpetuate violence against women and their children.

We must challenge the deeply ingrained attitudes, beliefs and distorted values that give rise to violence against women and engage the institutions that reinforce, allow or do not challenge these attitudes. The weight of scientific evidence demonstrates that children learn gender stereotypes from adults. Young people need to see diverse and constructive role models such as strong and respected women in high-profile roles and men who don’t necessarily fit the hyper “masculine” gender stereotype.

Respectful, ethical and healthy relationships need to be the foundation for how we live, love, work and play, as we work towards an Australia where women and their children live free from all forms of violence.

My deepest respect goes to survivors- people like Anj Barker, and 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, for their courageous and important campaigns to educate society about violence issues.

Natasha Stott Despoja AM

Ambassador for Women and Girls