Sophie Elliott Foundation launched
Lesley Elliott with a print of her daughter, Sophie
By Dan Satherley
Lesley Elliott today launched the Sophie Elliott Foundation, named in remembrance of her daughter who was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2008.
Aimed at protecting young women from abusive relationships, the foundation hopes to get into schools and universities where it can talk to teenagers and young adults about how to spot the signs of abuse, and what they can do.
Ms Elliott says the foundation is a legacy to her daughter.
"When I realised that she had been in an abusive relationship – which I didn't recognise, and neither did she – my thoughts were that I can't let this happen, I can't let her life be for nothing.
"And so I decided then that I needed to talk to young women. That was my basic aim to begin with - I want to go along in an informal setting, sit down on the floor with them and talk to them about what her relationship had been like, and the signs we missed at the time."
Sophie was stabbed to death by Otago University economics tutor Clayton Weatherston, whom she had dated for only five months. Their relationship, which had just ended, was typified by his subtle psychological abuse.
Ms Elliott says he never physically attacked Sophie, except for one incident only 10 days before he killed her.
She chose not to go to the police," says Ms Elliott. "She said it wasn’t worth it, she didn’t have any injuries and it wasn’t worth the hassle. I agreed with her, she convinced me she was right.
"In hindsight, that was a mistake. Sophie did her best, but I think if I had been more aware, we could have done more."
It wasn't until well afterwards Ms Elliott says she realised what was going on.
‘I googled, as we do these days, 'abuse against women' – and got pages and pages of links. I looked up the Women’s Refuge page and found 90 percent of the symptoms and signs were there.
"I cried for about an hour."
The Sophie Elliott Foundation wants to create a "generational change" in attitudes towards domestic abuse, with particular focus on prevention, says chairman Neville Caird.
"It became obvious to us that there is a gap in this area," he says.
"Government funding is focused on secondary and tertiary services," says Ms Elliott. "That’s after the offending has occurred. We want to be the fence at the top of the cliff, not the ambulance at the bottom.
"In fact, we want to be the green grass before the fence."
To do this, Ms Elliott has begun talking at schools, but is finding it difficult to get past the bureaucracy.
"It's not easy to get into schools. They have a very large curriculum – I'm not teaching a program, I'm not a relationship counsellor, I'm just a mum talking about a daughter who was in an abusive relationship."
The audiences she has spoken to she says have been very supportive.
"I find a lot of them, particularly in the female audiences I have, a lot of them are crying. I don’t go out to make them cry, but they realise it could be any of them… There are Sophies in every town."
Other trustees on the foundation board are accountant Graeme McLaughlan, barrister Nicola Williams and marketing professional Kristen Dunne-Powell.
Ms Dunne-Powell has had her own experiences with domestic violence. Former partner, broadcaster Tony Veitch, was convicted in 2009 of injuring with reckless disregard for kicking her in the back, fracturing her spine.
"It was quite a shock to us that there has not been anything specifically focused on prevention," says Ms Dunne-Powell.
Ms Elliott says she can't reach every young person in the country on her own, which is why she set up the foundation.
"With the foundation, we decided that we needed to do something more permanent. I want it to have longevity, I don't want this to be some kind of fly-by-nighter because what I'm hearing from students is that this is not covered at school."
The foundation was launched at AUT University, organised by third-year public relations students.
Donations can be made to the Sophie Elliott Foundation at any Westpac branch throughout the country, or by a deposit into its bank account (find out how by clicking here).