Warning: Distressing and graphic content
A domestic violence victim has shared the horror abuse she endured from her ex-partner at the Australia and New Zealand Police Family and Domestic Violence Forum in Melbourne.
On Tuesday, 120 police from both countries headed to the two-day event, hosted by Victoria Police, to share insight, best practice and develop new strategies to combat and prevent family violence.
Attendees heard from a range of guest speakers, including Simone O'Brien, a survivor of domestic violence - now an advocate.
Before the forum, Victoria police shared a video of the 41-year-old on their Facebook page, writing that they hope her story will give others the strength to leave violent relationships.
In the video, O'Brien described the emotional, psychological and physical abuse she endured at the hand of her former partner who she met on a dating website.
The divorced, Australian mother-of-three revealed that she required 52 surgeries after her ex-boyrfriend hit her in the head up to 50 times with a baseball bat.
"I look up and a baseball is coming down on me," O'Brien said.
"In the next 10 minutes, I endured 45 to 50 hits with a baseball bat to the right side of my face.
"I thought I was going to die."
After amicably separating with her former husband, she met her boyfriend, a real-estate agent, on a dating site.
She believed she was in the "safety-zone" as she knew police checks were necessary to get a licence for his job.
But after dating for nine months, she saw "red flags" along the way.
While dating, he was introduced to her children, Gabby, Ashling and Zach, who he increasingly became jealous of because of the time she spent with them. He also deleted her friend's phone number from her phone, A Current Affair reported.
"They were minor, but to me they were huge, because I'd never experienced domestic violence before," she said in the video.
On Saturday 23 of September 2012, she decided to end it through a text message.
But later that night he knocked on O'Brien's door and attacked her at her Brisbane home in front of her teenage daughters.
"Next minute I know, I'd ended up on the ground. I could see a baseball bat coming down on me.
"I knew my arm was broken after the first hit," she recalled.
During the attack, her two daughters, aged 12 and 15 at the time, tried to stop him with a pillow before calling triple 0.
"He was still going on me. I looked over and I said to my eldest Gabby, go and get help, go and get Mummy help," O'Brien told 9 News.
Her left arm snapped in two places and the top of her jaw was shattered so badly that she could barely open her mouth two millimetres, A Current Affair reported.
She was left blind in one eye after both eye sockets, her nose and right cheekbone were broken and her skull was completely shattered.
"It wasn't actually until six months later when I had moved to the brain rehab unit that I had actually found out what had happened to me," she said.
"Because prior, I actually had a sign above my head saying: 'Do not tell Simone what had happened.' because they wanted to know how much damage had happened to my brain."
O'Brien was placed in an induced coma and spent a month in hospital fighting for her life with injuries so horrific paramedics said that they were the worst they'd ever seen.
Titanium plates were used to rebuild her skull and hold it in position.
Her ex boyfriend was sentenced to 15 years jail for attempted murder in 2014.
Two years after the attack she was still being treated every couple of weeks at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Brain Rehab Unit.
Now, after 52 operations O'Brien said she feels "amazing" and hopes her story will encourage others to speak out.
"Even though I feel amazing, I feel great in my own skin.
"By sharing my story, I really hope and encourage other woman, children and if there's male survivors out there, to speak up."
"Please don't be scared to about speaking up. We need to speak up. We need to get you help. The help is there.
"I'm hoping that, Australia and New Zealand, we're all in the same line.
"We all need to just to work together as a team and just stamp this out.
"And just action, action, action. Otherwise, we're not going to help make a change, it's just going to keep snowballing.
"So my message is: Let's join as a team, let's work together, let's be one, not all individuals."
Family Violence Command Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter said responding to family violence is complex and highlights the need for continual focus in this area.
"There is no doubt that family and domestic violence is one of the biggest social challenges facing both our countries," AC McWhirter said.
"While significant progress has been made in police understanding and practice, the complexities of this often-hidden crime requires continued new ways of thinking.
"The forum represents an invaluable opportunity to share learnings beyond our policing borders on ways we can build on our own capability, and shape and lead the way we respond in our united fight against these heinous crimes."
The key themes of the forum were
• Integrated approach to family violence, sexual offences and child abuse
• Victim safety
• Child safety
• Offence and offender management and
• Safety and wellbeing of police.
"At a time when we continue to see more and more members of our community harmed by family violence, we take every opportunity to learn from each other and improve the ways that we can better protect people like Simone," AC McWhirter said.
"We know that when victims come into contact with police, they are often already at a crisis point. And tragically, while we are seeing an increase of family violence incidents, we know that many are still suffering in silence.
"These discussions will endeavour to identify gaps, learn from examples of good practice, assess what we are currently doing, and look at how we can improve now and for the future.
"The forum will no doubt also help forge new and strengthen existing relationships in our continued efforts to call time on this crime."
Inspector Fleur de Bes, Prevention Manager, Harm Reduction, who was at the conference, told the Herald the conference has been highly successful for both police and victims.
"New Zealand Police and Australian Police are committed to collaborative practice to continually improve our Police response to family violence and family harm. In 2018 the first Domestic and Family Violence Forum was held in Sydney, Australia, with senior practitioners and leaders from each policing jurisdiction coming together to share their approaches and learnings.
"Due to the success of this forum, a second forum was held Tuesday 12 November to Wednesday 13 November in Melbourne, Australia.
"The theme of this year's Forum was 'Sharing Evidence to Build Collaborative Capability'. New Zealand Police were represented at national and district level, and led by Assistant Commissioner Sandra Venables.
"Simone O'Brien was a keynote speaker. Her story is incredibly powerful and able to reach across Police, non-government organisations and members of our communities to ensure as many persons as possible understand 'risk flags' arising in relationships, so that women and children can be kept safe from harm. Simone entered a relationship in her 30s having had no previous exposure to family violence and did not realise the true risk associated with concerning behaviours she saw arising early in her new relationship.
"A number of Australasian Police jurisdictions including New Zealand Police operate disclosure schemes, designed to also enable persons who identify concerning behaviour or risk flags in their relationship seek out information about their partner. In New Zealand this is our Family Violence Information Disclosure Scheme which facilitates the disclosure of relevant information to a person about the previous violence committed by a person's partner. A disclosure may be made in response to a request or be a proactive disclosure initiated by Police in order to protect a person who may be at risk of harm.
"The Forum was well represented by Australasian Jurisdictions including New Zealand, with a focus also on child abuse and sexual abuse within a family context."
SEXUAL HARM - DO YOU NEED HELP?
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay
Where to go for help or more information:
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz
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