Domestic violence survivor and advocate Dr Ann O’Neill was awarded the John Curtin Medal earlier this month for her tireless efforts in raising awareness and providing support to victims of family violence.
In 1994 Dr O’Neill lost her two children and her leg in a murder-suicide committed by her estranged husband when he broke into her home while they were asleep.
Seven months later she commenced full-time study in honour of her children, going on to gain a degree in social work with first class honours and a PhD in international health at Curtin.
Currently she runs Angel Hands, a not-for-profit community support group for victims of serious crime.
She received the medal at a ceremony on October 4 and said it was a real honour.
She said the medal was indicative of changing attitudes around domestic violence.
“It’s a real indication of the community’s willingness to look and consider uncomfortable areas of need,” she said.
“When we think about homicide and family violence and those extreme traumas that we deal with at angel hands, 20 years ago you didn’t talk about such things.
“Awards like this really say you know what, the community realises the importance of those conversations and are prepared to look to find the pathway towards recovery.
“It’s really honouring the cause as much as it is for anything else and for the people who are left traumatised by the darker side of humanity.”
Dr O’Neill said domestic violence responses had come a long way but the biggest challenge now was resourcing it properly.
“We’ve got great systems, cutting edge legislation, we’ve got all of these structural aspects of society coming into play,” she said.
“The challenge for us as a community is to learn how to resource and support people in creative ways because we don’t have this endless pot of money.
“I think we’ve got most of what we need to do right, we just don’t have enough people doing it.”
Since 1998 the John Curtin Medal has been awarded annually by Curtin University to members of the community who demonstrate former prime minister John Curtin’s leadership qualities and commitment to community service.
Curtin University vice-chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said Dr O’Neill had dedicated her life to helping others in the wake of the tragedy through her social work, advocacy, research, education and public speaking.
“Despite suffering an unimaginable tragedy Ann has channelled her energy to bring awareness to the issue of domestic and family violence and trauma,” she said.
“Her extraordinary courage, resilience, vision and leadership make her a very worthy recipient of the John Curtin Medal.”
Dr O’Neill said the demand for Angel Hands was outstripping their capacity 10 to 1 and encouraged people to donate or volunteer.