Mel Thomas is teaching girls how to fight back against family violence.

Martial artist and mother of two Mel Thomas was “born into” family violence. For more than ten years she endured the brutal abuse of her alcoholic father before she and her mother finally escaped.

But the abuse didn’t end there and Thomas was bullied at school because of the family violence — ironically by girls suffering very similar situations in their own homes. As a teenager she was violently attacked.

While her story may be awful, it’s certainly not unique and, as she points out, more than 40 percent of Australian women over the age of 14 have experienced violence.

Mel Thomas. Source: Supplied

When her first daughter was born she decided she wanted create a better future not just for her, but for all women and children at risk of violence, so she launched the KYUP! Project.

"As a girl and as a woman we have all the experiences that we feel and have from just being girls and women," she told Mamamia.

"Girls don’t need a laundry list of stuff not to do, they need tools. How to deal with a guy that standing to close to them on the train ... How to protect yourself. How to be safe on the street, in the home, going into the workplace.


"As a woman I know that here are so many areas where we can be dis-empowered and we need to take that back.

"And I personally found that martial arts and self-defence was a way to claim back my strength."

Thomas is the founder of the KYUP! Project empowering young women through self-defence. Source: Supplied

The KYUP! Project runs school-based martial arts courses teaching girls the principals of self-defence and self-worth.

It's not just about teaching girls to fight off potential attackers, instead it equips them with de-escalation tools and focuses on building self esteem as well as strategies to deal with past violence.

"We talk about the power of the voice. How we can use our voice to not only speak out but also to turn around that negative self talk and of course just shout out to protect ourselves," Thomas says.

"It’s such a powerful and underestimated weapon for women. They’re not expecting you to have a voice, in fact they’re counting on it."

It was meeting a 14-year-old girl who had been assaulted by a group of teenage boys that really pushed her into action.


"The first thing she said to me was 'what did I do wrong?' I kind of knew how she felt.

"I had experienced that powerlessness myself of thinking that I could have done something or I could have said something. At the end of the day we do the best we can with the skills and experience that we have."

You can hear Thomas' story in full on SBS 2's The Feed program tonight. Source: Supplied

Thomas is also an Ambassador for The Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation.

"We need to give girls to have real life role models," she says.

"I look at my story and we don’t hear a lot of stories about kids living through family violence, but we can’t leave this piece of the puzzle out.

"We all have a voice and we all have to use it whether it’s to speak up and make stand, whether it’s to turn around that negative self talk or shout out in self defence and self protection. If we all speak up, if we all stand up and rise up then we can break the silence."

Mel’s story, 'Fight Like A Girl' will air tonight at 7.30pm on SBS 2’s The Feed.