The power of advocacy: one survivor’s story

Monday 24th August 2020

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Reclaiming and redefining one's self after experiencing intimate partner violence is fraught with many challenges. Overcoming the trauma of abuse and the injustices of the legal system are just two of these challenges.

Cathy Oddie knows this all too well. In spite of this, her decision to become a victim survivor advocate has been one of her most life changing and rewarding experiences. Here she reflects on her advocacy journey and her recent appointment to the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee Victoria (VOCCC).

Cathy Oddie has been a family violence survivor advocate for 13 years. Her journey to becoming an advocate began as a result of experiencing life threatening abuse by her partner when she was 22.

“I endured every sort of abuse for three and a half years, and ongoing stalking once the relationship ended. What I didn’t expect was to be let down by the systems and services that were meant to support me. It made me angry. If someone with my white privilege finds the system that difficult, how much harder would it be for a person who is Aboriginal, or from a culturally diverse background, or who is living with a disability find it?”

Participating in the safe steps Survivor Advocate Program was a major turning point in Cathy’s life. The program supports victim survivors of family violence to get media training, to challenge victim blaming myths, and be able to tell their stories in the way they want them to be told.

"The decision to become an advocate for change saved my life."

Since completing the program Cathy has given many media interviews about her experience as a victim survivor and the need for system reform. She has also drawn upon her lived experience to help inform the production of early intervention resources for victim survivors.

In 2015, Cathy also found the confidence and courage to provide her own independent submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence. As a result she was called upon to provide a witness testimony about her experience as a victim survivor and the difficulties she encountered navigating the service system.

“Giving that testimony was simultaneously one of the hardest things I’ve ever done plus one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s something I’ll be forever proud of.”

Cathy’s submission and testimony helped result in two of the Royal Commission’s final recommendations – Recommendation 104 and Recommendation 106, which led to the 2018 review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act.

“To know that just by putting my experience out there for the Commission to consider, that it could have such a lasting impact for victim survivors, that’s something I’d never want to change.”

What are some of the challenges and rewards you’ve experienced as an advocate?

“There’ve been points where I felt like walking away because, when you’re a victim survivor of family violence and sexual assault, the trauma doesn’t just end when the crisis ends. The impact that it has on you emotionally, physically, and financially is ongoing and really tough.”

“The advocacy work has kept me going forward in my life. It’s given me an opportunity to take myself outside of my own individual circumstances, to see the bigger picture and the need for broader reform and change.”

“By speaking up I’ve been able to be part of creating change. I’ve got a voice in this space that people are listening to. I also have a responsibility to use that voice in a way that amplifies the voices of those who are not being heard.”

Tell us about your recent appointment to the VOCCC and what this means to you?

“It means being part of informing policy and legislative changes that help improve the victim supports that people who’ve experienced serious violent crimes receive.”

As a representative on the VOCCC, Cathy will bring a lived experience lens of what women who experience family violence and sexual assault go through. This will include advocating for:

  • the need for legal representation
  • changes in court designs so that victim survivors are not placed at risk of encountering their perpetrators
  • more specialised case management
  • victim survivors not having to repeat their experience and story of abuse

For Cathy, this role gives her an opportunity to ensure victim survivors’ voices are central to any reform and system changes.


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