MORE than a decade since her former boyfriend savagely bashed her to within an inch of her life, Anj Barker has found love.
And this time, she says, it’s a relationship based on mutual respect.
In 2002, when she was 16, Ms Barker had her head slammed repeatedly into a metal bench and her faced stomped on in a Benalla park for refusing to get back together with her then 20-year-old ex-boyfriend.
Such was the extent of her injuries to brain and body, she lay unresponsive for five months and it was five years before she would speak again.
But using her new found voice yesterday at a White Ribbon event at The Cube Wodonga, Ms Barker told the audience she’d met a new partner, Matt Sherwell.
“I’m in love with a beautiful man,” she said, still struggling to form her words.
Asked later what made this relationship different, she said “the love and respect”.
“He’s a very kind-hearted, loving, giving man,” Ms Barker said.
“I want to improve so we can have the best life possible together.”
In a presentation using a voice to text program, Ms Barker said her previous partner had instead been controlling and abusive, and she wanted to tell her story to prevent other young people from getting into violent relationships.
“Healthy relationships are all about equal respect and valuing the other person for who they are and having them value you back equally,” she said.
“It’s about being able to be comfortable to be yourself. And it is not about fear, jealousy, or control.”
Also condemning violence against women at the event was White Ribbon ambassador Wodonga councillor Mark Byatt and Wodonga Police Insp Tony Davis.
“The practice of violence against women is not, underline not, acceptable,” Cr Byatt said.
He told the audience, including male representatives from football clubs and the emergency services, that in Australia, one woman a week was killed by her former or current partner and one in three reported being sexually or physically abused at some point in their lives.
Insp Davis said violence against women in Wodonga had increased by 18 per cent in the past year, making it the 10th highest rate in the state.
“We are here today to make a pledge and a public statement to the perpetrators of this insidious crime that they will be held accountable for their actions,” he said.
“Today is about changing culture and changing attitudes, it’s about removing the sense of entitlement and exercise of power and abuse that some men impose of women.”
Although she had been expected to remain in a vegetative state, Ms Barker defied the odds and has shared her message with tens of thousands of people, including speaking at the International Women’s Health Coalition in New York.
The 2011 Victorian Young Australian of the Year has campaigned on the behalf of young people in nursing homes and for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
It was nine years before Ms Barker would take her first steps and she still remains in a wheelchair most of the time. But this didn’t stop her from giving rock climbing a go recently, a sport she once loved.
It was there she met Matt, who works as a carer.
Ms Barker’s mother Helen said her daughter’s new romance gave her even more motivation.
“It’s just been the icing on the cake for her recovery,” she said.