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Brave

Read about the incredible courage of a mother and her children to resist the horrific violence in their lives, and how their tenacious caseworker Liz supported them to safety.

Morgan, 11 years old

‘In my job I hear stories about violence all the time. I never get used to them. The story of Angela and her children will stay with me forever ’

It all started with me. The day I told my teacher about my dad. There were a lot of days before that when I was going to tell someone. I’d always change my mind. I had to pick the right day. All my life my dad made me the same promise. He said if I talked he would do something really awful to my mum. I knew he meant it.

My dad hurt my mum for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it was nasty words. He called her a pig or a dog. So many things made him angry. If he didn’t have a cup of tea as soon as he got out of bed. If the washing wasn’t folded when he got home. I’d open my eyes in the morning and I’d be thinking about that cup of tea. Was it ready, would it be right? I’d race home from school and help my mum fold that washing. I never sat still.

Picture of Caseworker Liz

Picture of Caseworker Liz.

'My brother got straight beside her and blew his breath into mum’s mouth. Over and over. He is only eight. He saved mum’s life that day. Well, we both did.'
Picture of outback and Lake

Picture of outback and Lake.

Sometimes it worked. Some of the things I did stopped my dad in his tracks. I became pretty good at that. But sometimes I couldn’t stop him. He hurt my mum in ways it’s hard to say out loud. He punched her and he kicked her. He dragged her across the floor, he threw things at her, and he left bruises all over her. One time he lit a fire and dropped it on her while she was in bed. I tried in all sorts of ways to stop him. Other times, late at night, I heard my mum crying. They were the worst times. I don’t remember when it started. I just know I have been afraid all my life.

'I hope he learns that what he did to us was wrong. Most of all, I hope he is sorry.'

The day I told my teacher it was because I knew I had to do something. And it was because of what I saw my little brother do. My dad used my mum’s scarf to choke her. He wrapped it around her neck and was squeezing and shouting. Mum was making terrible sounds and my little sister was crying. I was trying to make him stop – pushing him and begging. I think he finally heard me. He let go of that scarf. It was then we saw that mum wasn’t breathing. She had stopped making those awful noises. It was the most frightening thing in the world. My brother got straight beside her and blew his breath into mum’s mouth. Over and over. He is only eight. He saved mum’s life that day. Well, we both did.

I told my teacher the next morning. I told her just enough. I couldn’t wait around to see what my dad did next. The school called Liz. She is a caseworker and she came with the police pretty quick. She told me she had already spoken to my mum. Liz said that my mum told her to believe me. That helped. It was my mum’s way of telling me it was okay. Liz and the police officer listened and they took my mum’s advice. You can tell when adults believe you. My brother and my sister told Liz everything that made them frightened about our dad. My sister is only six. She was so brave that day. We all knew that we had to do something.

The police arrested my dad and took him to jail. You couldn’t believe the difference in our house. It was instant. The fear just went away with my dad. I started to breathe again, to sit still for a bit. It was then that I decided to say a bit more. I had a card with Liz’s number. I took it to my teacher and asked her to call Liz for me. Liz answered and I told her I had something else to tell her. I asked her to come to school. I asked her to bring the same police officer. Liz didn’t ask why. They just turned up. I told them about the time my dad tied me up with rope and hit me with a piece of wood. I told them what he said when he shouted and swore at me. I had been too scared to tell that story before.

The police have told me my dad will be in jail for a lot of years. Sometimes I worry about him and sometimes I miss him. But I don’t miss being afraid. I want to see him one day but not on my own. When I am ready. I hope he gets help in there. I hope he learns that what he did to us was wrong. Most of all, I hope he is sorry.

The year after next I go to high school. Some kids get right to the end of school before they know what they want to do with their lives. Not me, I know already. I’m going to be a police officer. I’m going to believe kids. I’m going to turn up when they ask me to.

I chose the title of this story. I want other kids to know that there are all sorts of ways to be brave. I want them to see what they are already doing. And I want them to know about my sister and my brother and me. We were told not to talk but we trusted the right adults. We did it together and it worked.

Angela, mother

'I didn’t want to tell her anything. That was too dangerous. But I did tell her to believe my kids.'

Women who have never been hurt by their husbands probably wonder about women like me. They probably wonder why I stayed or why I put up with it.

My husband hit me on the first night of our marriage. He has hit me many, many days since. In the beginning I told no one. My family live on the other side of the world. I came here to marry my husband. I didn’t have anyone to tell and I didn’t have anywhere to go. For two years I was silent and ashamed.

Picture of bird flying in the sky

Picture of bird flying in the sky.

'I tried to protect them from what their dad did to me.'
Picture of a close up of caseworker Liz

Picture of a close up of caseworker Liz.

When I got pregnant with Morgan I knew I needed a plan. I decided to tell my mum. She lives in Europe. I started by taking photos of all the injuries my husband left on me. I would send them in an email to my mum. No words, just the photos. And then I also started recording the sound of it all. Right before I knew he was going to hurt me I would press the record button on my phone. It meant there was a record of his shouting and the sounds of his violence. And more often than not, me crying. I sent those recordings to my mum, as well as the photos. And every time I deleted those emails as soon as I sent them. I had to be careful. I did that for 10 years.

We didn’t talk about it much, mum and me. It was too awful. But I knew she was keeping all those photos and recordings. I knew it must have been hard for her to open them. She was protecting me by looking after them for all those years. When the time was right I would use them. And maybe, deep down, I also sent them in case there was a day when he went too far. I knew if that happened my mum would tell my story.

I didn’t see my mum or my family once during those years. I knew they hated what was happening to me. They couldn’t come to me and I couldn’t go to them. I had three beautiful children and I poured my love into them. The same love my mum gave me. I tried to protect them from what their dad did to me.

'My mum and my kids and me. Together we told a story that needed to be told.'

I did leave him once. I saved every cent I could and found a place for us. I had to do it all in secret and it took time. He found us in that new place. It didn’t take him long at all. I was in more danger then than I ever was and so were the kids. He was back living with us hurting me again while I worked on another plan. But I’ve never put up with it and I’ve never got used to it.

My other plan was to get educated. I studied English first and now I am almost finished a nursing degree. It means independence. My husband didn’t like me studying and he didn’t like me making friends with anyone.

It came to an end the night my husband strangled me and Adam gave me mouth to mouth resuscitation and Morgan fought his dad. My boys saved my life. The next day they went to school and they talked. I got a call from Liz. She introduced herself and told me about her job. I didn’t want to tell her anything. That was too dangerous. But I did tell her to believe my kids. I like that she asked my permission to talk to them. Liz respects me as their mum.

Not only did Liz believe my kids but she got the police to believe them too. They charged my husband and they saw my injuries. And then my mum sent them all the photos and recordings with all the times and dates on them. Ten years of hurt delivered from across the sea. The police changed the charge to attempted murder.

After that I started to tell Liz more. I had some of the photos of the recent injuries my husband left on me. One day I asked Liz if I could show her. Those photos were like the words I would not say aloud. It was the safest way for me. Liz was the only person I showed those photos to; not even the police. I saw in her eyes what she saw when she looked at them. I know that she doesn’t wonder why I stayed.

We’re now safe like we never have been before. I asked Liz to celebrate Morgan’s 11th birthday with us. I wanted her to see the difference in our family and to share cake with my brave boy. I’ll be a nurse soon. I hope I can do as good a job with people who are afraid or alone as Liz did for us. I can’t wait until I am working – it means I can save to take my kids to meet their grandmother. I know she will love them. I wait for that day more than anything in the world.

Liz, caseworker

'It taught me what it really means to live in fear.'

In my job I hear stories about violence all the time. I never get used to them. The story of Angela and her children will stay with me for life. It taught me what it really means to live in fear.

The first thing I did when we got the call from Morgan’s school was to look at our records and talk to the police. It was obvious this boy had an urgent story to tell. We had to be at our best because he and his family needed immediate and real safety. I started with his mum. I’ve learned it’s the best way. We didn’t always start with mothers but that’s another story. I am glad we have new ways of working with women and children hurt by violence.

Picture  of outback

Picture  of outback.

'She gave her blessing for us to step in by empowering her children to lead the way.'
Picture of close up of Liz

Picture of close up of Liz.

When I rang Angela I could hear her fear. It was coming right down the phone line and I knew she didn’t want to talk to me. That made sense – I was a perfect stranger with the power to take her children. I needed to earn her trust. But even in her fear she was able to give me some very clear messages. She said it wasn’t safe for us to go to her home and she said to believe everything the children told us. She gave her blessing for us to step in by empowering her children to lead the way.

We were at the school for three hours. Those children were incredible. I talked with them with the police officer there the whole time. I listened as they described intolerable fear and gut-wrenching violence. I was sick to my core to hear how their mum had been hurt. At the same time, I was blown away by the courage of those three. As I listened I focused on the things they did when their dad used violence. We used to ask kids a lot about their feelings. I have noticed the difference when we ask about their actions instead. I asked Morgan simple and curious questions about what he did when his dad hurt his mum. I remember his animation as he described his efforts of distraction and mediation. I could see glimpses of pride as he answered those questions. I really believe that talking like that helped Morgan to see all the things he was doing for his family. It upheld his dignity by moving him from a mere observer to a brave survivor.

'It upheld his dignity by moving him from a mere observer to a brave survivor.'

A lot happened after those children talked. The police did their job beautifully. They had plenty of evidence; thanks to Angela, her children and her mother. Once Angela’s husband was sent to jail my job was to get the family to somewhere new and safe. I worked hard to build trust; to show I understood that fear wasn’t going to just evaporate for Angela, even with her husband behind bars. I listened and I was gentle. I worked to show respect and to be reliable with all the things I said I would do. The day Angela asked me to look at some of her photos was an honour. It was her way of showing me trust. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Those images made me sick with shame for how she had been treated.

The second time I got called from school it was different. This time Morgan wanted to talk about how his dad had hurt him. I understood that he was ready to tell this part of the story because he had started to trust in the safety he felt with his dad in jail. The first time he talked it was for immediate safety. The second time it was to correct the record and stand up to the threats. I treated that call with the same urgency as the first one. By asking for the police to accompany him I knew he wanted the system to act. We had to be true to the trust Morgan was placing in us. It worked – more criminal charges were laid against Morgan’s dad because of that story. He is the bravest and smartest 11 year old I know.

I love my job. I got to bear witness to the most extraordinary courage of a young woman and her children. I was trusted to know their deeply personal stories. I relied on curiosity to understand remarkable abilities to survive and to love. Most of all, I saw hope flourish into new lives.

'I love my job. I got to bear witness to the most extraordinary courage of a young woman and her children.'
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Last updated: 21 Nov 2019