UPDATE, Monday, December 4:
Saturday's 'The Stalker' talk has been postponed to early 2024, at a date to be set, due to illness.
Threatened with guns, knives to her throat, choked until unconscious, kicked, stalked for more than a decade - and all the while told that police would do nothing.
Ballarat's Cathy Oddie has an incredible tale of survival.
And she is hoping no other woman has to go through the battle she did, just to get meaningful help.
Now the gutsy 44-year-old is teaming up with a former policewoman to warn about the signs of stalking, how it's changed with technology, how the law is being revamped - and how to stop it from happening to you.
"None of my perpetrators have gone past an initial police investigation," the tireless family violence victim advocate said.
"None of mine will end up in a criminal process - but to have a formal acknowledgement that this happened to me is so integral to be able to move forward in your life."
Cathy and ex-cop Narelle Fraser have created a series of podcasts - and now they're taking their message to the people of Ballarat with a public talk at the City Oval Bowls Club this Saturday night, December 2 .
It'll be no-holds barred - and it is recommended for adults only.
Cathy will explain how she fell into an abusive relationship as a young adult, the threats made to her life and her loved ones if she left or sought help - and how she eventually got that help.
The pair will also talk about the tricks used by expert manipulators.
How her story began
Ms Oddie's story began in 2001 when the happy, well-educated and ambitious young woman met a fellow uni student.
"My first impression was not good. He was smoking a bong. I should really have followed my instinct on that very first day," she said.
"But I just thought he was a nice country kid living in the city like me. We got together later.
"It all started when he alienated all my friends. My housemates moved out as a result - and he moved in."
The abuse began almost straight away.
Ms Oddie remembers 'John' pulling a Stanley knife on her and threatening to kill her after a minor disagreement - an issue she could not even recall.
He later apologised profusely, saying he would never do it again
Six months into the relationship Cathy discovered John was selling drugs as a side job while he studied organic chemistry.
"He was openly dealing drugs from a house that was in my name," she said.
"The guns he had were not legal - but he was from a farm, and he knew how to use them."
Her mates no longer dropped in - and to this day she struggles with friendship lost during that period.
If you leave me I'll kill you, I'll bury you in the backyard. I'll go after your friends and family.
"It took me several attempts to leave the relationship because each time my perpetrator would say to me:'If you leave me I'll kill you, I'll bury you in the backyard. I'll go after your friends and family'.
"That's what kept me in that relationship for so long.
"The times when that sort of talk was happening it was just me and him. There was no one else around - although he could still be violent and abusive around other people.
"I'll never forget multiple occasions where he would have me on the ground, kicking me - and his two younger brothers who later lived with us would watch that and do absolutely nothing." she said as tears came to her eyes.
"It was a relationship where I had experienced him holding me hostage at gunpoint, breaking my bones - and strangling me to the point of unconsciousness multiple times."
How it continued
Then she turned 23.
"It was the worst birthday of my life,"
"I wanted to go out and see a movie. He didn't."
What seemed like a minor issue started an argument involving guns, a serious physical assault and Cathy barricading herself in her bedroom as she called triple-zero for the first time in her life.
Her back was covered in bruises while John tried to bash the door down.
"He was talking about the gun he had.I could hear him cocking it. It's a distinctive sound.
"It took police over half an hour to arrive and there were two male officers.
"I could hear John putting on the charm, while minimising what was going on.
"They didn't even ask about the gun I had described to the triple-zero call-taker.
"Police asked what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to get out of the house.
"I was injured - and at this stage none of my family knew what was going on because I didn't know how to talk to them about all of this.
"Back then you would have referred someone to a family violence support service.
"All of those things that you would do now, just didn't happen at all..
"I was dropped off at Southern Cross station to gte a train to Ballarat."
Cathy said she feared for the safety of family and friends John had threatened to kill. The lease on her inner Melbourne home was also in her name - and she feared he would destroy the property, leaving her family with a hefty bill.
"So I went back," she said.
"He then seriously assaulted me again - this time choking me until I was unconscious.
"He also used the fact I had called triple-zero and the mediocre police response as a form of control from that point on.
"He was like: 'Oh go on - call the police - go ahead - they won't do anything, just like last time."
"So through three-and-a-half years of broken bones, being burnt by him - and all sorts of abuse - I didn't call the police again because they didn't take it seriously, even when a gun was involved."
The relationship ended in 2004 with a relatively amicable split.
But that was just the beginning.
Within a week, a decade of stalking started.
Cathy was sent messages commenting on where she had been that day - and when John discovered she was trying to join the police force, he sent an eerie message about guns, saying "You'd better draw first".
The stalker also announced he had moved to a home near her - and carried out hundreds of 'hang up' calls at odd hours.
"He was an alcoholic and a drug addict," she said.
I'd get messages like 'Your lights are off - where are you?
"He'd come out of whatever pub late at night and just call from a payphone."
"Sometimes I'd come out from somewhere I'd been with my mates and he'd just be hanging around - and preventing me from leaving or going where I wanted.
"When he sent a message saying he had moved around the corner, my heart absolutely sank.
"I'd get messages like 'Your lights are off - where are you?
"My fear levels went through the roof."
Ironically, it was one of John's friend's who noticed his behaviour - and did something.
He took Cathy aside, telling her it was unacceptable - and that's when she decided to take legal action again.
"I was so scared of John and his underworld associates. It was the time of Underbelly. My fear of these people was very real.
"I wasn't just looking over my shoulder for him - but for them as well.
"Again I went to Brunswick police and showed them the messages on my phone.
"I told them I needed to get protection - and they told me to go to Broadmeadows Magistrates Court to the Family Violence Registrar
"I couldn't believe it.
"I had just reported a threat to kill. Why were police not sitting me down and taking a statement?
"This happened over and over again.
"Nothing happened to John."
I did everything the police asked me to do and the court system - and the system failed me.
She said it took until 2010 to get an intervention order.
"He didn't even stop after that," Cathy said.
"The last incident was in 2015.
"I did everything the police asked me to do and the court system - and the system failed me."
Cathy's story of recovery
But change has been on the way.
Police now have a new screening assessment tool for stalking - with 16 different behaviours they use to assess its severity.
Cathy said her case would have fallen into the worst category, had that type of screening existed.
"(Advocating for change) has been my way of healing and recovery - instead of being caught in a spiral where I allow them to destroy me," she said.
"I use my negative experiences to show what can happen.
"If I'm someone who is educated, articulate, knows systems - and even I can't get support, how much harder would it be for people who have a whole other level of barriers - such as language or isolation?"
For several years Cathy has been an advocate for changes to the way family violence is described in the media and has had significant input into the drafting of laws.
She gave evidence at the 2015 Family Violence Royal Commission.
Her work directly led to recommendation 104 - giving victims timely access to group or individual counselling by a trained professional for as long as they need.
Cathy's evidence also led to recommendation 106 - which covered changes to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, Victim Assistance Program and the way victims were treated in criminal trials.
She said the stalking led to other crimes against her by trusted people - and in the process of dealing with that trauma, she discovered she was eligible for help connected to the earlier crimes.
"Family violence wasn't taken very seriously back then - but the point I made to the Royal Commission was that a violent crime is a violent crime.
"A rape might be something that happens on one night - and yes its violent - but family violence can go on for so many years."
An advocate for change
For three years she has been working with the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee.
"I've actually been co-designing the new system that will come into place as of next year.
"It will see family violence and sexual violence treated at the same level. Support amounts will also be increased."
"Until now you've had just two years to put in an application for help.
"That's not long enough when you;re going through this stuff
"You will now have a 10-year timeframe to put in application.
"For child abuse periods it will be even longer."
"When I later got help for a rape, the Magistrate on the day said something that changed everything for me.
"It was because no one had really believed me or validated me up to that point.
"It was really meaningful.
"He said: On behalf of the State of Victoria I'm really sorry for what happened to you.
"It's really important to give victims that moment."
Cathy said a formal written acknowledgement of harm would be embedded in new legislation - whether a perpetrator had been found guilty or not.
"That for me is life changing.
"People are not going into the Victims of Crime process motivated by money.
"They're wanting the crime acknowledged.
"They want someone to believe them."
Ms Oddie said police were taking family violence much more seriously
Ms Fraser - whose police roles have included working with the Homicide Squad - admitted police were not perfect and needed more training in how to deal with stalkers.
"They're generally people known to the victim, people feeling some kind of rejection - and people seeking control and power," she said.
Cathy said stalking - and the problems that followed later - affected her sleep, relationships and behaviour.
"I was constantly looking over her shoulder," she said.
"That feeling of being completely safe - I've forgotten what that actually feels like."
Cathy Oddie and Narelle Fraser present 'The Stalker' from 6.45pm this Saturday at the City Oval Bowls Club, 1406 Sturt Street, Lake Wendouree. Tickets are $25 through TryBooking.