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We’ve got your back mums: Mel Histon reflects on Mother’s Day

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There’s not much a mother wouldn’t do to protect her child. 

An instinct, born or formed, urges her to hold them when they cry, feed them when they’re hungry and keep them warm when they’re cold. 

Survival co-conspirators, it’s a bond that stretches beyond the giving of fluffy slippers and hand-made cards on a Sunday in May. 

So, what happens when a mother feels she must leave what was once a sanctuary for the pair, fleeing with nothing but the clothes on their backs. 

Mel Histon says that’s when mums need the love and support returned. 

Mel Histon with actress and GYBS ambassador Madeleine West.

As founder of the Newcastle-based domestic violence charity Got Your Back Sista, she’s seen first-hand the effects of intimate partner abuse on mothers. 

Dedicated to providing relief and support to women and children who have escaped the trauma of domestic violence, GYBS provides, one-on-one casework support, courses and programs to rebuild physical and emotional wellbeing, and pathways to education and employment, furniture and household items to setup a safe home. 

While many households across the Hunter will spend Mother’s Day showering their mums with dressing gowns, picture frames and breakfast in bed, Mel says the date is also a timely reminder to consider the mums who are struggling to protect their child’s future. 

“Not everyone has the ideal Mother’s Day and that’s the reality,” she says. 

“The mums that show up at Got Your Back Sista are facing an uncertain future, they’re feeling broken and lost and exhausted. 

“They’re afraid, and they’re questioning their instincts and they’re wondering if they’ve done the right thing and what happens next.” 

“Statistics tell us a woman will attempt to leave a domestic violence situation seven times before she actually goes for good,” says Mel. 

Whether her relationship has been flooded with emotional abuse, economic abuse, technology-facilitated abuse, a woman will feel weak, vulnerable and fragile. 

“It’s a really big thing for a woman to leave an abusive relationship, and to leave with her children. 

“But, it’s the bravest thing as well.” 

domestic violence
Mel Histon at Got Your Back Sista’s annual event ‘I Run for Her’.

LONG-TERM AFFECTS ON CHILDREN

New global research shows a direct link between prolonged family violence and an array of psychological disorders, including ADHD. 

“Even if the emotional abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, any of that abuse, is not directed at them, children can still feel it, and it can have the same physiological and psychological response as if it is directed at them,” explains Mel. 

“They can still have that fear response, the fight or flight response, and their little brains can get flooded with cortisol which can have such long-term impacts on learning and behavior. 

“Children live with the fear of what they have witnessed, and they can experience that trauma as well, even if it’s not directed at them. 

“Just living in that house means they can feel it.” 

HANNAH’S LAW 

On 6 March 2024, Queensland Parliament passed a bill that will see coercive control became a criminal offence. 

By 2025 it will carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. 

The NSW Parliament passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act in November 2022, making coercive control in current and former intimate partner relationships a criminal offence.  

It is likely to be enforced from July 2024. 

Referred to as ‘Hannah’s Law’, the legislation has been largely driven by Queensland couple Sue and Lloyd Clarke, who lost their daughter Hannah and their three grandchildren (Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey) in a horrific firebombing attack at the hands of Hannah’s estranged ex-husband in February 2020. 

Their daughter’s death sparked a widespread outpouring of grief and broader commentary on the effectiveness of frontline services in combating domestic, family and sexual violence, as well as coercive control. 

domestic and family violence
Mel Histon also has a podcast called ‘Hey Soul Sista’ which “gives women a voice”, she says.

As Mel explains, the new law is designed to bring hidden horrors, such as those faced by Hannah, to the forefront. 

“Coercive abuse is about power and control,” she says. 

“It’s covert, it’s not openly displayed, that’s why they call it coercive.  

“It’s a covert form of power and control and manipulation and it can happen through emotional abuse and restrictions on freedom and independence. 

“Perpetrators, which can be an intimate partner, will use covert manipulative means to control, to have power over their partner. 

“It might be abusive language, it might be restricting finances, it might be psychological, gaslighting or manipulation but it gets to a point and then it’s like a slippery slope, it really is.  

“It doesn’t necessarily happen all at once, it can happen over time, that’s its covert nature. 

“Quite often when we speak to women, they’ll say ‘oh, but he showered me with presents, and he made me feel like I was the most beautiful, wonderful woman in the world’,” explains Mel. 

“That’s the entrapment.  

“Then the coercive nature, the put downs, the language, controlling finances, emotional and psychological abuse begins, until the women start to think that he knows better.  

“They think that they’re going a little bit crazy, maybe from hormones or baby brain, and when you’re not working you already have guilt that you’re not helping with the finances. 

“The perpetrator, through coercive controlling means, and this is a generalisation, but they will have her questioning herself, and that will knock her confidence, so she won’t be trusting herself anymore. 

“It really is traumatic. 

“Hannah Clarke was in a coercively controlling relationship.  

“There was no real evidence of physical abuse until her ex-husband killed her and her children.” 

Got Your Back Sista
“Coercive abuse is about power and control,” says Mel Histon.

Physical violence is not the only abuse that can leave long-term scars either.  

“The emotional trauma of being in a coercively controlling relationship can have impacts on the brain and the body, the trauma experienced is just as significant as being physically abused but there’s no physical scars, which is hard as well when your abuser is charismatic, and they’ve convinced other people that the problem lies with you,” Mel says.  

“When we run our programs, our Rebuild and Reconnect, Brave and Courageous, and our Empowerment Circle support groups, we are literally helping rebuild, shattered women. 

“So, in terms of Hannah’s Law and what we see in New South Wales with our coercive control laws, it’s going to come down to police and the justice system to implement. 

“Only two perpetrators have ever been convicted of emotional abuse. 

“The onus is on that woman to be documenting everything and to be then going and convincing police that this is happening to her.  

“It’s great to have these laws, but the proof in the pudding is going to be how they’re applied by the system.” 

Including how to deal with domestic violence in police training would be a good start, Mel told the Newcastle Weekly

“It’s going to take a while.” 

MEL HISTON and MOTHERHOOD

Mother’s Day is a date on the calendar that Mel says reminds her of how fortunate she is to be both a birth mother and a stepmother. 

During the past 12 months, she has also become a grandmother. 

“I always wanted four children and that’s what I’ve ended up with, I just took a different path to get there,” she says of her blended family. 

“There are different aspects of motherhood, like being a biological mother, a stepmother, a foster mother, or an adopted mother. 

“They’re all still mothers and I think each comes with an instinct to protect and care for a child, and to want the best for them. 

“It’s our job to raise good humans, regardless of our title.” 

motherhood
Mel Histon with members of her family, April 2024. Photo: Peter Stoop

MAY IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PREVENTION MONTH 

May is Domestic and Family Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in Australia. 

The campaign is designed to raise community awareness of the social and personal impacts of domestic and family violence and the support available to those affected. 

Equipping the community with the tools they need to help in this space is something Mel is passionate about. 

“One of the most common questions I get asked is what can I do to help,” she says. 

“The first thing you do if a friend or a family member comes to you and says this is happening to me, is listen to them and believe them.  

“Stand by them. 

“Listen and believe them, that’s really important.” 

Latest figures reveal one in four (2.3 million) women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence and or emotional abuse by an intimate current or former partner, 1.6 million women have experienced economic abuse from a current or previous partner. 

“And, a lot of domestic violence is still unreported,” says Mel.  

“I know a lot of family and friends can get frustrated when they see that a woman’s in an unhealthy relationship or abusive relationship.  

“But a woman is an expert in her own life and what she needs is for you to walk beside her and to listen to her, believe her and support her so when she finally makes the decision to leave, that she knows that you’re there for her.  

“And, even though she might not leave straight away, and she might try many times, one day, she may make the decision, the final decision to leave and then she really is going to need your help.  

“Just listen, believe her and walk beside her.” 

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