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Conference Dedicated To Courageous Abuse Victim

8 August 2005

Conference Dedicated To Courageous Abuse Victim

A conference in Auckland this week will be dedicated to the memory of a courageous woman whose life was punctuated by episodes of gross abuse and cruelty.

The Many Faces of Abuse Conference's opening session on Wednesday 10th August will hear of the experiences of Mavis May, as recounted by her friend, Whakatane Advocacy Trainer, Ruth Gerzon.

Mavis, who died earlier this year aged 77, sustained brain injuries as a young baby, apparently after being hit on the head with a beer bottle during a parental row.

Institutionalised as a result of these injuries, Mavis grew up neglected, deprived of all education, subject to cruel punishment regimes and forced to work without pay from the age of six onwards. She later described herself as a slave during this period.

In her mid-twenties, Mavis was rescued by a kind cousin, with whom she lived happily until the cousin's death 28 years later, when the cycle of abuse began again. The family, with whom she and her disabled friend Tommy were now living, stole their money, deprived them of sleep and generally treated them cruelly. Threatened with sexual abuse, Mavis had a breakdown and was again institutionalised.

For the rest of her life, Mavis suffered from recurrent bouts of mental and physical illness, with spells in hospitals and rest homes interspersed with brief happy periods, such as the two years she and Tommy spent in a flat of their own, next to her nephew's house.

Her last eight years were another period of happiness, despite increasing infirmity and the onset of Parkinson's disease, possibly as a result of excessive medication in earlier years. Along with Tommy, she was now in a rest home which was totally unlike the institutions of her early life and where the staff treated her with the love and respect she deserved.

"Mavis was my friend for many years. Her story was one of extraordinary love, courage and triumph over suffering. Her friendship meant a lot both to me and my family. Mavis knew that abuse of people with disabilities was still widespread, both in institutions and in the community. She would be delighted to be associated with a conference aimed at exposing and reducing such cruelties," says Ruth Gerzon.

The Many Faces of Abuse Conference will take place at the Waipuna Conference Centre between Wednesday 10th August and Friday 12th August.

Organised by the not-for-profit organisation, Standards Plus, the conference will take a wide-ranging look at how people with disabilities, the elderly and the otherwise vulnerable can be devalued, controlled, ignored or abandoned by the individuals and systems that are meant to assist them, as well as by families and society at large.

Presenters are to include internationally-respected experts from New Zealand, Australia and the United States, along with experienced health and social service practitioners and victims of abuse.

"In just one lifetime, Mavis experienced a range of abuse that, while horrifying in scope, was sadly far from unusual. Some of the grosser forms of institutional barbarism to which she was subjected as a child are now mercifully things of the past. But all too many other forms of abuse continue to be inflicted on vulnerable members of the community, sometimes deliberately and sometimes out of misplaced good intentions," says Lorna Sullivan, Chief Executive of Standards Plus.

"Only by lifting the veil of silence and acknowledging the extent of abuse, can we hope to make a substantial reduction in its incidence. We believe our conference will contribute to this goal," she says.


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