Heather* was sitting at her kitchen table in Ballarat one day several years ago, not aware of the pain, grief and torment that was about to walk through her front door.
She’d just received a phone call from long-time friend Sarah*, who asked if she was home alone.
Sarah wanted to know if she could come over and tell Heather “something important” – she wouldn’t say what exactly, but from the tone of her voice it was clearly urgent.
Sarah arrived clearly shaken – and nervous – with what she was about to say.
Her husband had been abusing their daughter, less than 10 years old.
Sarah had just found out and needed to vent. Her sounding board was Heather.
“It was apparently a reoccurring thing,” Heather told The Courier this week.
“All I could do at the time was support her and try to be the best friend that I could.”
Heather was placed in a situation she had never been in.
She was aware family violence was occurring in another household and she had to decide what to do next.
It’s a problem faced by many in Ballarat each year.
“I discussed it with my partner at the time, but he said it was best left with her and her family,” she said.
“I agonised over how to help her, I knew I had to do something.”
Sarah had asked Heather what to do out of desperation.
Her family was falling apart because of the abuse but she felt almost powerless to stop it.
That’s when Heather gave her suggestion.
“I knew someone in child protection and suggested she give them a call,” she said.
“She said the person (at child protection) was really supportive and understanding.”
“I think a few people she told might not have been that supportive, which did make it hard for her.”
Heather said while she was initially uncertain on how to act, she never once doubted Sarah’s story.
“I think when someone tells you something like that, you have to believe them,” she said.
“After our first chat, I just kept popping around with food on the colder days, making phone calls and just doing anything I could to cheer her up.”
Heather admitted the police and court process against Sarah’s husband was a “drawn out” process, but said the end result was worth it.
“It all had to be proven and that takes time,” she said.
“A lot of people didn’t want to know about it at the time (of the allegation), but I believed her from the beginning.”
Heather’s advice to any third party who knows about family violence happening elsewhere is to act and act quickly.
“Call child protection, call the police – you need to share it with someone,” she said.
To make a report of family violence, call Ballarat Police Station on 5336 6000.
*Names altered for privacy reasons.