How social media helps victims and changemakers make a difference

A raft of major changes are announced to the 7-10 school syllabus that will specifically focus on domestic violence ...

A raft of major changes are announced to the 7-10 school syllabus that will specifically focus on domestic violence prevention.

Rachel* having the chance to tell her story about being a teenage victim of domestic violence, and losing her mum to suicide after years of abuse, was always improbable. In past years her story may never have reached our screens or newspapers – but it did, and it points to a dramatic shift in how the internet is giving victims not only a voice, but power to change the policies that may have made a difference.

Sitting at her grandma's computer one night, just four weeks after her mum had taken her own life to escape the brutal abuse of her dad, Rachel decided something needed to change. She started an online petition, writing her heartbreaking plea for kids like her to know more about domestic violence so that they can get help.

"I didn't know that what happened in my home was different to any other family home," Rachel wrote that night. "As a child how could I have known any better? She killed herself four weeks ago,she was the only person I ever needed in my life ,I miss her so much. If domestic violence was addressed within the public schools educational criteria ,i could have gotten help and saved my mum."

It was raw and emotional, a teenager grieving for her mum – but the power of her words connected with tens of thousands of people. Her petition spread like wildfire. More than 100,000 people backed this courageous girl standing up and fighting against becoming what she described as a "silent sufferer" with "never ending sadness".

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A digital community suddenly stood around her, giving her strength to keep going. That's the game-changer that social media is bringing to various debates on national and local issues. Any individual can grab hold of an online megaphone and reach thousands.

And today, four months after starting her campaign, her powerful message has been heard by the highest levels of government. Pru Goward, the NSW Minister for Domestic Violence Prevention, responded to her petition and announced the introduction of domestic violence education for children across all schools. 

You can sense a tipping point emerging on the tackling the scourge of domestic violence in Australia. You can see it in the calls for change getting louder by the day. Rosie Batty's appointment as Australian of the Year. Newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald running its 'Shine the Light' series and helping bring stories like Rachel's into public consciousness. And online, victims are finding their voices – and they're starting to take come up with their own solutions to this epidemic of family violence.

In recent months alone, we've seen a staggering 340,000 signatures on the issue of domestic violence. It's a remarkable surge on a single topic. The petitions are started by victims, parents, mums and kids like Rachel. And what's exciting – and shown so clearly by Rachel's success – is that by being able to mobilise together quickly and easily online, and support each other in speaking out, they're beginning to win.

For Rachel, she says today is an "overwhelming moment... I wish this change had of occurred in time for me to save my mum, but it makes me feel so happy to know it will exist to help others."

At 14 years old, this courageous young teenager has – remarkably – reshaped the education her peers will get in their classrooms. 

 

*Rachel is not her real name. 

Nathan Elvery is the campaigns director at change.org.