Sophie's mum warns of signs of abuse

NAOMI ARNOLD
Last updated 13:00 21/06/2012
Lesley Elliott
NAOMI ARNOLD/Fairfax NZ
CAMPAIGN: Lesley Elliott speaks at Nelson College for Girls last night.

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Several hundred people gathered at Nelson College of Girls last night to listen to the story of Sophie Elliott, the 22-year-old Dunedin woman killed by her ex-boyfriend at her family home in the summer of 2008.

Her former economics tutor, Clayton Weatherston, is serving a life sentence for her murder.

Sophie's mother, Lesley Elliott, spoke quickly as she described the months leading up to her daughter's death and the warning signs that everyone missed in the five months her daughter was seeing Weatherston, then 32.

"I'm talking to you as a mum," she told the audience.

"I feel I'm talking on behalf of Sophie. I know she would have wanted you to know what happened in the relationship."

After her daughter died, she read the signs of abuse on the Women's Refuge website. "I don't mind admitting that I actually sat there and cried uncontrollably for a good long while. I just kept thinking if only – if only I had realised, if only I had pointed her in the direction of this website." Mrs Elliott said Sophie became anxious, emotional and developed low self-esteem during the volatile relationship. Weatherston was jealous, controlling, threatened her, and "kept her dangling". Sophie felt she was ugly and fat, had to change herself so Weatherston would like her more, forgave him countless times, and blamed herself for his behaviour.

Mrs Elliott also emphasised the importance of reporting abuse. Weatherston had physically attacked Sophie twice before her death, but Sophie hadn't wanted to report it – and in the second incident, which happened at Otago University, people who overheard hadn't reported it either. Mrs Elliott said none of Weatherston's six former girlfriends had reported his physical abuse.

She now wants others to realise when they're in an abusive relationship and how to get out, and wants a school relationship education programme introduced.

A panel discussion after Mrs Elliott spoke included representatives from the police, Women's Refuge, and support agencies, and included talk about how parents could protect their teenage daughters from abusive relationships, and how helpless many parents felt when they suspected something wasn't right.

Mrs Elliott's friend, voluntary manager, and book co-author Bill O'Brien said the region had welcomed them over the past three days' speaking events in Motueka, Takaka, and Nelson, with people recognising that there was a need for young people to be more savvy about relationships.

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"There's been a very good, positive turnout with a lot of positive comments and people standing around talking about the issues afterward. That's very affirming for Lesley to see that people heard the message, [and see] there's a need to do something."

Student Jessica Starr, 13, said the talk had made her aware of what a good relationship was.

"She's a really strong woman. Now I want to be happy when I get into a relationship and not feel uncomfortable with anyone."

Denise Tutty, a mother of two daughters, said Mrs Elliott was "brave" for using her daughter's death to raise awareness.

"If this helps one person in the audience, that's got to be part of Sophie's legacy."

For more information, visit sophieelliottfoundation.co.nz.

The Nelson Mail will be investigating family violence in Nelson in a future article. If you would like to tell your story, phone 035462843 or email Naomi Arnold.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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