On 9 January 2008, this beautiful and intelligent woman, with a wonderful childhood behind her and a promising adult life ahead of her, was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend … in her own home, while her mother was there.
Now – 8 years later – one NZ woman still dies every 26 days at the hand of a violent partner – which means that over 100 women have died since Sophie’s murder. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world.
Recently I attended “An Evening with Lesley Elliott.” Lesley is not only Sophie’s mother, she is an incredibly brave and strong woman who has made it Sophie’s legacy to raise the awareness of all young women, and their families and friends, of the signs of partner abuse through the Sophie Elliott Foundation.
Lesley says at the time of Sophie’s murder, neither she nor Sophie really understood that Sophie was in an abusive relationship. She didn’t like Clayton Weatherston and neither did any of Sophie’s friends, but they didn’t realise Sophie was actually in danger – until it was far too late.
Now Lesley travels the length and breadth of the country helping make young women and their families aware of the signs of abuse that she and Sophie missed.
I implore you to visit the Sophie Elliott Foundation website and to find out more about what they do – there are all sorts of valuable resources on there and I have singled out a few that really hit home for me with a young daughter who ***OMG we’re not ready for that*** will be dating in the not-too-distant future.
Check out the “Power & Control Dating Wheel” below – it summarises the characteristics of an out-of-control relationship
How Sophie’s murderer personified these characteristics …
Power and control – he told Sophie she wasn’t bright enough (she earned a first class honors degree in Economics); needed to lose weight and inferred she wasn’t good-looking enough for him. This was Sophie below – hardly overweight was she? And although I wouldn’t grace him with a photo here, let’s just say he was way out of his league with Sophie in the first place.
Possessiveness – he wanted to know where Sophie was at all times, yet didn’t feel she needed to know anything about his whereabouts.
Isolates you – he isolated Sophie from her friends – none of whom liked him. I’d like to say here – if your family and friends don’t like him, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t be in a relationship with him.
Threats – he was emotionally and verbally abusive to Sophie on numerous occasions.
Suicide threats – I don’t know about this one, as of course I never knew Sophie and am only going on what Lesley told us at the meeting, but men who make suicide threats and say things like “If you leave me, I will hurt myself” are often only trying to manipulate you to suit themselves.
Changeable/volatile behaviour – Sophie never knew whether he really liked her or not. He was into the relationship one day, then cold as ice the next. Nothing was ever his fault – it was always Sophie’s. Lesley said Sophie couldn’t understand him, and always wanted to try and change him.
Sexual – on one occasion, only days before Sophie’s murder, he tried to force her to have sex with him. Thankfully Sophie escaped, but sadly, didn’t press charges.
Physical abuse – nothing needs to be said here, considering Sophie is no longer with us.
Communication – he was haphazard and unreliable – he wouldn’t reply to Sophie’s texts for hours and wouldn’t always answer her calls. She felt insecure because of that behaviour.
According to the Sophie Elliott Foundation website, 15-24 year old women are at the most risk of psychological, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of a partner.
PLEASE – visit the website and familiarise yourself with the early signs of an abusive relationship – so that both you and your daughter are aware of them. There’s also a page that talks about the characteristics of a healthy -v- an unhealthy relationship (which includes a quiz to check the status of your relationship; the reasons people stay in a violent relationship; common excuses for violence; what to do for help and contacts for help.
The Sophie Elliott Foundation, in association with the New Zealand Police, also runs a full-day educational course for Year 12 students called Loves-Me-Not (a play on the “He loves me; he loves me not” game.) The course is very interactive and is designed to make students aware of what a healthy relationship looks and feels like.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lesley Elliott – no one would blame her if she just sat back and grieved for Sophie – and of course she and her family will do that for the rest of their lives. What is amazing about Lesley is that over and over again, she re-lives that horrible day and she does it so that other families won’t have to.
Sophie and Lesley were very close, and if two highly-intelligent women like that weren’t able to see the signs of an abusive and dangerous relationship, then there are going to be others in the same situation. The signs often start subtly and build from there. In the book that students receive free of charge via the Loves-Me-Not course , there are two blank pages; one to write down what you see as the characteristics of a healthy relationship and the other to revisit and write down the characteristics of your current relationship as a comparison. If it doesn’t compare well – get help.
Thank God for the Lesley Elliott’s of this world – they are courageous enough to try to make change in the face of an horrific personal situation. It’s just unbearably sad they were put in that situation in the first place.
Do yourself and your family a favour … visit the website and educate yourself so that neither you, nor your daughter, ever end up like Sophie.
That is Sophie’s legacy.
Prevention via education …