Enough is enough
When Peninsula Living meets Melanie Thomas at a Manly café, she is unapologetically emotional.
Just yesterday, Tara Brown became another domestic violence statistic, when she was killed on the Gold Coast allegedly by her former partner.
As a mother, and founder of the KYUP! Project - a prevention and awareness initiative, she is visibly upset thinking about Ms Brown's daughter.
“So I grew up With domestic violence and it breaks my heart to know we‘ve got so many kids out there, it‘s such an under reported crime. There are so many kids dealing with it and living With it...it's their normal,” she explains.
“That little girl is the same age as mine and she was dropped off at a childcare her mother was killed and now her whole life will be affected by ‘that’ violence - there can be no doubt it will impact and inﬂuence her future.”
Ms Thomas understands this better than most, having grown up with an abustve father and the inﬂuence living with domestic violence has had on her life. Today she is using her own experience with domestic violence (DV) and a lack of conﬁdence to help others with the KYUP! Project (pronounced KEY-UP! named after an empowering martial arts cry).
Melanie runs school workshops all over Australia and New Zealand promoting self defence, self worth, awareness and safety.
"I started this whole thing when I met this girl named Angela, she was 14 and she told me that she'd gone to the park - her father had recently committed suicide and her mum was working two jobs and the older brother wasn't handling it well at all. So she was hanging out at the park with her little brother,” she begins.
"She's down there and a group of guys come down and they've been drinking and Angela felt really threatened and intimidated and she couldn't get out of the park without getting past them and she said 'I was just hoping someone else would come and that the dynamic would change'. Angela is gorgeous, blonds, quiet, vulnerable, the opportunity is there and they kind of just closed in on her. The comments became crude, more personal and she just wanted to get out of there.
“Angela said she was sitting on the park bench and she got up to leave and one of the guys grabbed her and he pulled her on his lap. She said 'I completely froze up, I couldn't say anything, do anything, I didn't want to freak my brother out so I didn't do anything'. Thankfully she wasn't sexually assaulted that day but she was grabbed and roughly passed around and assaulted in every other way and the little brother, this poor little kid couldn't do anything.
"I heard that story and thought 'Right, that's it! I want to give these kids the conﬁdence and courage and strength to handle a situation that doesn't feel right', and Angela was the ﬁrst person I did the program for, she's an amazing kid and she loved it. From there it has snowballed with the help of a few amazing people.”
So impressive is the initiative that it was handpicked by Layne Beachley to be one of her 2013 'Aim For The Stars Foundation' grant recipients.
"It was just an idea addressing the cycle of against women and children and Layne and the foundation have been phenomenal. I'm in touch with them often and I‘m proud to be an ambassador this year,” she reveals.
To coincide with domestic violence awareness month, Ms Thomas will be running two free workshops for mothers and their teenage daughters at the Manly Community Centre (MCC) on November 7 and she wants to see the hall “jam-packed with 100 women and girls”.
She has been working closely with MCC senior welfare and domestic violence worker, Anona Le Page.
In her role, Ms Le Page sees the darkness of DV on a regular bags and she is over the moon to be offering awareness workshops like these.
“I don't think domestic violence, and that includes both women and men, is increasing in numbers or is more prevalent I think it‘s just that people now are recognising it more, they understand more that certain behaviours are actually abusive whereas before I think it might have been tolerated.” she tells Peninsula Living.
"I think it's all about awareness and education of the public, and with family and domestic violence I think the stigma is going. And that has a lot do with programs like Mel's.
“It's about getting the message out, you can't help the whole world but we can help our peninsula" she smiles.