Woman crippled from savage bashing by ex-boyfriend raises awareness of teen domestic violence
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Woman crippled from savage bashing by ex-boyfriend raises awareness of teen domestic violence

Anj Barker was 16 when her ex-boyfriend wrapped his hands around her neck, slammed her skull against a steel park bench, and stomped her face into the ground.

The 20-year-old man often told her he loved her during their two-year relationship but as he left her bruised, bloodied and close to death, he said to a passerby:

Domestic violence prevention campaigner Anj Barker wants young people to be aware of the warning signs and dangers of abusive relationships.

Domestic violence prevention campaigner Anj Barker wants young people to be aware of the warning signs and dangers of abusive relationships. Credit:Karleen Minney

"You can f---ing look after it now."

Ms Barker was unresponsive when she woke up three weeks after she was viciously bashed in the Victorian town of Benalla in 2002.

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Students at Mulwaree High school in Goulburn listen to Anj Barker's story.

Students at Mulwaree High school in Goulburn listen to Anj Barker's story.Credit:Karleen Minney

After more than a decade of slow and excruciating rehabilitation her speech is limited and she cannot walk.

That hasn't stopped her sharing her experience of teen domestic violence with thousands of school students to raise awareness and drive down growing rates of abuse among young people.

Her story was met with shocked silence from hundreds of students during a visit to Goulburn's Mulwaree High School on Thursday as Ms Barker told them domestic violence could happen to anyone.

"I am your sister, I am your best friend, I am the girl next door, I could even be you," she said.

In a speech read out by her computer, Ms Barker recalled she was a skinny and popular teenager who excelled at sport.

At age 14 she fell in love with an older man who isolated her from her friends and family, controlled her actions and repeatedly verbally and physically abused her.

She had told him she didn't want to get back together moments before that savage final attack.

"It wasn't always awful. I hung on because he was tanned, popular, cool guy.

"But it wasn't worth the result."

Student Jacqui Lieschke, 16, said her heart ached to hear how the actions of one man had changed Ms Barker's life so drastically.

"I just kept thinking this girl was just like me, she was talking, she was laughing, she was normal.

"You think it doesn't happen or it couldn't happen to you.

"It could happen to anyone."

About one in three young people who had been in an intimate relationship experienced dating violence, figures from a 2001 study by the Australian Institute of Criminology showed.

And there were calls for better school-based prevention programs in schools after a University of NSW study released earlier this year revealed young people still clung to gender attitudes that could perpetuate domestic violence.

The survey showed 19 per cent of males agreed men should be the head of the household and take control of their relationship, compared to 4 per cent of females.

NSW Domestic Violence Prevention Minister Pru Goward told Thursday's crowd that fostering respect was key to eliminating domestic and family abuse in Australia.

"Domestic violence is more common among young people than any other age group.

"We here all truly believe it can be prevented if people know how to manage relationships without resorting to violence or tolerating violence."

National domestic violence helpline: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Megan Gorrey is a reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a reporter at The Canberra Times.