Victim pleas to recognise early signs of violence

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#16DaysOfActivism

Featured image: Gender-based violence survivor and guest speaker Angela Barker with Mitchell Shire Mayor Louise Bannister.

A special guest and victim-survivor of abuse captivated and incentivised the crowd at the Mitchell Community Walk Against Gender-based Violence with her address on Wednesday.

Order of Australia Medal recipient Angela Barker was 16-years-old when she suffered a brush with death at the hands of her ex-boyfriend Dale Lepoidevin.

Lepoidevin, who was 20 at the time, brutally attacked Ms Barker in 2002, rendering her in a near-vegetative state.

Ms Barker had met with Lepoidevin to end their on-and-off two-year relationship for good.

After refusing his requests to get back together, Lepoidevin repeatedly belted Ms Barker’s head against a steel bench, leaving the back of her skull ‘like jelly’.

While Ms Barker was unconscious, he jumped on her face and snapped her jaw.

It was expected Ms Barker would remain in a vegetative state forever and live a short life due to the severity of the injuries inflicted upon her.

The Age reported that Lepoidevin was jailed in 2003 for a maximum of 10-and-a-half years with a minimum of seven-and-a-half after his original sentence was increased.

Ms Barker, who used an electronic aid to deliver her speech last week, shared an insight into recovery and her life post-assault.

Ms Barker addressed the crowd in Seymour last week before utilising an electronic aid for the remainder of her speech.

She described the difficulties of accessing rehabilitation 20 years ago, forced to undergo therapy to walk and talk again at aged care nursing homes.

“It took me five months to poke my tongue out past my teeth, nine months to move my arm for the first time and five years to get my voice back,” she said.

Ms Barker surpassed medical professionals’ expectations in her recovery, though she suffers from speech difficulties and utilises an electronic wheelchair.

Before her assault, Ms Barker was an active year 11 student who loved high jump, netball and basketball, and was aiming for a career in psychology.

Despite having suffered verbal and physical abuse before the assault, the love she had for her partner, the belief she could change him, the fear of repercussions to herself and her family for leaving him, and the belief that she wouldn’t find another partner were among the reasons she listed as to why she stayed.

“No one wants to think that the person they like and have feelings for wants to hurt them,” she said.

“These bad guys and girls can be the fun, funny, witty, charming, smart people – the popular people.

“There is no shame in falling for this. There is no shame in getting help either.”

In a plea for courage among victims, Ms Barker stressed the importance of not allowing the feeling of being wanted to be justification for abuse.

“If your partner starts to control and manipulate you, he is overly jealous and possessive, if they put you down, if their temper is becoming unpredictable, if they force or pressure you into doing things you do not want to do, if they scare you and start to keep you away from your family and friends, if your gut tells you something is wrong – these are all signs that the relationship won’t work,” she said.

Trusting the opinions of family, friends and loved ones and reporting abuse were Ms Barker’s principal pleas.

“They are not as blinded by the idea of love and can see that you are being harmed, controlled and manipulated,” she said.

“Make sure you [report to police] at an appropriate time outside of your abuser’s vision and knowledge.

“I know this is difficult and can add to your risk, but you really need to watch what they say and do before the relationship turns abusive so you can leave before it even gets to this life-changing, risky stage.”

During her time at the nursing home, the Federal Government made a DVD about Ms Barker’s assault as part of the Violence Against Women – Australia Says No campaign. Hundreds of Australian public and private schools nationwide have screened the film, ‘Loves Me Loves Me Not: The Angela Barker Story’, released in 2004.

Angela Barker’s film, ‘Loves Me Loves Me Not: The Angela Barker Story’, beginning at 12 minutes.

Over the past 19 years, Ms Barker has spoken to more than 50,000 people about her story.

“This is my contribution to the national fight against violence against women and girls – to make the world a better place,” she said.

Ms Barker reassured the crowd that she continued living her life to the fullest – meeting Queen Elizabeth in 2011, sky diving, abseiling and recently becoming enagaged were among her highlights.

“I sit here in front of you now, an independent adult woman who has taken control of my life,” she said.

More than 100 people turned out for last week’s Mitchell Shire Walk Against Gender-Based Violence in Seymour, where Angela Barker shared her story as a victim-survior of abuse.

Mitchell Shire Council chief executive officer Brett Luxford recognised Ms Barker’s activism efforts as shaping the next generation and thanked her for attending the community walk.

“Anj is a courageous woman who, against formidable odds, has emerged as a powerful advocate for change,” he said.

People can learn more about Ms Barker’s story by watching the film Loves Me Loves Me Not: The Angela Barker Story on YouTube at .