real life

When she was nine, Melissa's mum tried to kill her and her brother. She doesn't see herself as a victim.

Content warning: This story includes graphic depictions of violence, substance abuse, and self harm, that may be distressing to some readers.

My name's Melissa, I'm married to a lovely husband, and I'm a mum of two gorgeous (big) kids, aged 23 and 18.

In so many ways, I'm just a typical mum juggling a career, family, volunteer work and squeezing in a personal life where I can.

But my back story is so far from typical. 

While I'm sure my mother did the absolute best she could with the skills and knowledge she had, and I hold no ill feelings towards her, throughout my childhood I was exposed to significant periods of domestic and family violence and homelessness.

There was a lack of schooling, alcoholism, and drugs in the home, and I could very easily have followed the path laid out for me. 

But I refused to. 

My childhood was peppered with extreme highs of having an amazingly stable home life, to lows that I never want to see any child go through. In hindsight, and with the privilege of age and education, I would now say that my mother was likely dealing with mental health issues after a string of difficult life experiences, that when mixed with excessive alcohol abuse meant that she herself was often the perpetrator of violence. 

People mostly see the male as the perpetrator, and I know the stats prove this, but there is also another side to family violence that many children never want to talk about, because their mum should always be the one to protect them.


But that wasn't the case with me.

There was one horrifically violent night that sticks in my mind above all others. 

I was in grade four aged just nine, my brother in grade one, aged six. We were living in Queensland with Mum, her boyfriend at the time and his two kids. They were on again, off again and alcohol, drugs and violence played a massive part in our family life.

At this specific time, the relationship was ‘off’. This would normally mean things would settle a little in the family home, but not this time. Every single day was like walking on eggshells. You had to be so careful what you said, how you said it, what you ate, even how you ate, and the list goes on. 

You never knew what you were about to do or say would trigger a violent outburst from Mum.

On this particular day, my brother and I were walking home from school. 

I loved school; it was a safe place for me and I would go as often as I was permitted by my circumstances.

We stopped to play at the park. My brother loved doing that, and to be honest I wanted to delay going home as much as possible, because things were so tough and scary there. 

After 30 minutes of playing, I decided it was time to get home. I was terrified our late arrival home might incite violence. 


As we approached the house, my blood ran cold. Music was blaring, the kind of music that we knew meant we were in for a long night. The kind Mum listened to when she'd been drinking for hours. 

I told my brother to go hide in his bedroom cupboard until I told him it was safe.

He didn’t question this or argue; he knew what was coming as much as I did. I promised him it would be ok and I would look after things.

I tried to walk in as casually as possible. I could smell alcohol and cigarettes. 

As predicted, it was obvious Mum had been drinking for hours. There were many bottles on the table and she had a half-finished bottle of whiskey in her hand.

While this was not an unfamiliar scene to come home to, today was different, today I was scared more than usual. 

Mum had obviously been crying. Normally I'd hug her, try to comfort and appease her.

But, not today. Today there was a massive butcher's knife stabbed into the end of the table, and Mum had been cutting herself so there was blood and tears and alcohol everywhere.

I didn’t know whether she was really hurt, whether she needed an ambulance. I just froze. 

Quietly, I tried to sit down beside her, but I accidentally tripped over a chair leg, and knocked her drink over. 

Mum launched into a tirade of verbal abuse, and I burst into uncontrollable tears. This was never a good idea in front of Mum, because she'd then abuse you for being weak and unable to ‘hold things together’.


Next Mum laid out her plans for that night - and instantly I wished we'd never came home that day.

Mum told me she no longer wanted to live, and that she planned to save me and my brother from having to endure it as well. 

She calmly explained I would die first. Mum said she would 'make it painless' and I 'wouldn't even know what happened.' 

She said my brother would be next, then her. 

She said this world didn’t deserve to have us in it and we were better off gone.

I snapped, yelling, begging Mum for our lives, saying we could live with our Nan. 

She accused me of loving my nan more than I loved her. She told me I was being selfish.

Suddenly, I was up against the wall with the butcher’s knife at my throat. I felt the blade. I felt the trickling blood. I thought I was going to die and I was so scared for my brother hiding in the cupboard. He was next and I couldn’t save him. 

How could I have failed him so badly? I should have believed in my instincts earlier that day, but now it was all too late. 

I continued begging. Telling mum how much I loved her and how I would be good. I begged, I begged, and I begged. 

Thankfully, she dropped the knife but began to beat me violently. I'm not sure how much longer this went on, but eventually she fell in a heap on the floor.


I ran to my brother and jammed clothes into a bag and dragged him out of the house as fast as I could. I begged him to run fast. 

I had left Mum on the floor crying. I had no clue whether she would be there tomorrow. My only concern was to keep myself and my brother alive. 

It was now late, maybe midnight. Hours had passed since we'd arrived home around 4pm, hours filled with emotional, psychological and physical abuse. 

We walked for hours, finding a park far from home. And even though it was freezing cold, sleeping on the concrete floor of the public toilets was probably going to be our safest bet. 

And that’s where we slept that night. It was freezing; we were hungry. I was hurt, bruised, scared, but I saved my brother and I felt proud that night.

With all this going on in my life, I desperately wondered why no one helped me. Why did people not see what was happening and if they did see, why didn’t they help me? I struggled with that my entire childhood, and sometimes in my young adulthood as well.

There were so many opportunities for people to ‘step up’ and make a difference in my life and they simply didn’t. 

I never understood this (and probably still don’t), but this is what drives me now to help as many people as I can. If I can save one life, help one person, give one kid a voice, then I know I have lived a life of value.


This is why, in October 2020, I took on the role of National FriendSafe Program Manager at Friends With Dignity, a domestic violence charity. 

The FriendSafe Program uses revolutionary technology to aid domestic violence survivors. A FriendSafe Personal Safety Device looks and acts like any other smart watch, with an important additional feature: The ability to connect with emergency services any time of the day or night, 365 days a year, with the push of a button, eliminating the need for a phone.

If I'd had one of these on that night, my experience would have been so different.

Watch: People who have experienced Domestic and Family Violence answer 'Why didn't you just leave?' Post continues below.

Video via ABC TV.

Being a volunteer with Friends With Dignity has helped me to heal my inner child just a little. I know that while I may have missed the helping hand, I can hand on heart say that each day I do everything I can to help someone.

When I was given the opportunity to share my story, my immediate reaction was ‘no way’. But why?


I didn’t want to paint myself as a victim – I am not a victim.

I didn’t want pity or sympathy from anyone. I didn’t want people to look at me differently when they learnt about my childhood, and I certainly did not want my hard work and dedication in life to be considered ‘less than’ because of where I came from.

An interesting way to think about this, I know. So I decided to think more about this opportunity and think about how it may help someone, think about how me sharing my story may help someone taking a step backwards in their life journey to keep moving forward.

Image: Supplied.


Program Manager at Friends With Dignity, Melissa knows firsthand how difficult it can be to "break the cycle" and escape the cycle of violence.

The FriendSafe Program offers revolutionary technology to aid domestic violence survivors. A FriendSafe Personal Safety Device looks and acts like any other smartwatch, with the important additional feature of the ability to connect with emergency services any time of the day or night, 365 days a year, with the push of a button, eliminating the need for a phone.

By donating to the FriendSafe Program, you can help provide these life-saving devices to domestic violence survivors who desperately need them. Your donation could make a significant difference in someone's life and help them take the first step towards breaking the cycle of violence.

Please consider making a donation today to help support domestic violence survivors through the FriendSafe Program. Every dollar counts, and your contribution could help save a life. Thank you for your support.

If you or someone you know is at risk of violence, contact: 1800 RESPECT.

Feature Image: Supplied.