Course to save young woman from abuse

He was described as "the epitome of evil" but was recognised too late.

No-one intervened before Clayton Weatherston brutally murdered his former girlfriend, Sophie Elliott, in 2008, but new initiatives aim to make intervention more likely in future.

A programme to arm young New Zealand women with the tools to recognise abuse in their partner is in the last stages of being prepared. It is the culmination of a vision by Sophie's grieving mother, Lesley Elliott.

Elliott has pushed for the initiative for the past six years through the Sophie Elliott Foundation.

"I firmly believe if Sophie had a programme like Loves Me Not in her final years at school she would have known when things went wrong in her relationship," she said.

"I know that getting this programme off the ground is what Sophie would have wanted. We estimate over 70 women have been murdered at the hands of their partner or ex-partner since Sophie's death – there is still much to do to protect our nation's daughters." 

Sophie Elliott was a promising economics graduate with a bright future. She had just clinched a job with the Treasury.

However, during Sophie's relationship with Weatherston neither she, nor anyone else, recognised the danger signs of abuse.

"He took a knife to the vivacious 22-year-old's home, locked her in her bedroom, and stabbed her 216 times while her frantic mum was outside listening to her screams but unable to help," a Fairfax Media report in 2009 said.

"He mutilated Sophie's body, including her face and breasts, in a cold and calculated attack." 

Sophie's father, Gil Elliott, would later describe Weatherston as "the epitome of evil".

A Fairfax Media commentator said Weatherston "came across as a narcissistic, cynical, self-centred crackpot".

Police and the Ministry of Social Development came on board last year to help develop Loves Me Not.

It goes out to participating secondary schools soon.

A new book about relationships will accompany the programme, Sophie Elliott Foundation manager and former police officer Bill O'Brien said.

Police and specially trained personnel would deliver the one-day programme which would be accompanied by a second book being jointly written by Elliott and O'Brien.

Elliott's first book, also written with O'Brien's help, outlined the devastation of the murder and subsequent Weatherston court trial.

"This is a tremendously exciting time for the foundation and for Lesley in particular," O'Brien said.

"It was her aim to see a programme like this in schools and, while it is a bittersweet moment, it is tremendously satisfying for her and a legacy to her much loved daughter Sophie." 

Police national headquarters issued a statement about Loves Me Not, saying relationship abuse and family violence were major issues across New Zealand.

"Police are focused on reducing harm in these areas," the statement said.

"Loves Me Not workshops have been designed to engage young people in the sometimes difficult subject of relationship abuse." 

The workshops aimed to assist young people to: 

● recognise if they were in an abusive relationship, and get help before it became more difficult to get out of

● recognise if any of their behaviours might be abusive and controlling, and get help to change these behaviours while they were young.

● recognise early signs of abuse and make early choices to reject abusive relationships.

Workshops are expected to start in terms 2 and 3 this year.

Fairfax Media