Sophie's abuse story strikes chord

Sophie Elliot's mother tours Manawatu

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 07:37 10/07/2013
Lesley Elliot
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ
A MOTHER'S MISSION: Lesley Elliot speaks to young mothers at Freyberg High School's Teen Parent Unit about how to identify abusive relationships.

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A group of Manawatu's young mothers say the story of murder victim Sophie Elliott has opened their eyes to relationship abuse.

Dunedin woman Lesley Elliott, Sophie's mother, spoke to a room of 20 young women at Freyberg High School's Teen Parent Unit yesterday about her daughter's murder.

Mrs Elliott is on a mission to teach people how to identify abusive relationships after witnessing what her daughter experienced.

Sophie, 22, was killed by her ex-boyfriend and university tutor Clayton Weatherston in her own bedroom in 2008. Weatherston stabbed her 216 times and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009 for murder.

After her daughter's death, Mrs Elliott looked online for information about abusive relationships - she was confused about how, when she and her daughter had been so close, she had missed the warning signs.

What she found was she had seen the signs, but not recognised them.

Now, through the Sophie Elliott Foundation, she speaks to high school students and adults about Sophie's story, and what she missed, in the hope of educating others of red flags in their relationships.

Mrs Elliott told the young mothers there were some common misconceptions about abusive relationships.

"He wasn't a druggie, he didn't live on the street and he wasn't a gang member. He was a well-educated man with a PhD, but he was still a murderer."

Manifestations of power, control, manipulative communication and making threats could all act as signs.

Whether the abuse was physical or verbal, it was hugely destructive and needed to be dealt with, she said.

"We think we know it all when we're 18 or 20, but it's not until later on that we learn.

"She was like any of you, any of us, and we as women need to stick up for ourselves and say ‘No, it's not OK'.

"There's a nice guy out there for every single one of you, so don't just pick the first guy that comes your way."

Three young mothers from the Teen Parent Unit, Gayle Moana-Johnson, 19, Temina Jenkins, 19 and Heavenlee Bray, 20, said they found Mrs Elliott inspiring - they'd all been in some form of abusive relationships before and related to Sophie's story.

"Every point she made made me think, ‘Oh my god, I actually did go through that', but you don't notice it when it's happening to you," Miss Jenkins said.

"You think, I'll stay around a bit longer and see if it gets better, in the hope that they'd change and you just believe everything they say like it's gospel."

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Miss Moana-Johnson said reflecting on her past relationships and Sophie's drew some scary similarities, but she was lucky to have left early.

"I am so glad I got out of it. I was almost crying during that whole thing. There's a lot to learn from [Mrs Elliott], all of the dos and don'ts."

Miss Bray said Sophie's story sent a strong message about not being afraid and acting early.

"It was just a dumb game, looking back over it, it was never worth it, but now it's about making sure they don't have that power over us ever again."

The three young mothers said they had since set boundaries on building relationships.

Mrs Elliott is holding talks at eight Manawatu locations this week through the Zonta Club of Manawatu.

Today she spoke at Feilding High School and at the Palmerston North City Library.

Tomorrow she will be at the Palmerston North fire station for the Manawatu Abuse Intervention Network.

- Manawatu Standard

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