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Sophie Elliott Foundation: Dating violence prevention

Sophie Elliott Foundation to pilot dating violence prevention programme

The Sophie Elliott Foundation will be launching a pilot of a healthy relationship programme, Loves Me Not, in nine secondary schools around New Zealand from May this year. The Foundation, which has been working for the past three years to bring awareness to high school students and young people about violent relationships, has joined forces with the New Zealand Police, the ‘It’s not OK’ campaign team and other experts to develop the Loves Me Not programme.

Co-founder and Chair of the Sophie Elliott Foundation, Lesley Elliott, says this is an exciting step for the collaborative team. “Over recent years we have worked hard to form a partnership with New Zealand Police and the ‘It’s not OK’ campaign. They, like us, have identified the need for young people to be aware of the differences between healthy (equal) relationships and unhealthy (controlling) ones,” Mrs Elliott said. “The working relationship we have with them is excellent.”

"This new programme will bring another dimension to our work with young people in schools," says Inspector Brigitte Nimmo, Manager of Family Violence within the New Zealand Police. "We know that by working together we have the best chance of really making a difference and we believe that Police and the Sophie Elliot Foundation will be able to work collaboratively to really change things for everyone.

“This programme is based around an idea used successfully in Australia, and New Zealand Police are very confident that the partnership will ensure that it is as successful in New Zealand."

The programme, which covers a full day involving teachers, police and NGO facilitators, will be evaluated after the pilot programme is completed later this year. The aim is for nationwide implementation by 2014.

“The enthusiasm of school principals and teachers gives me great heart. The most positive aspect for me is what students say. They are saying, we want this, we need this,” Mrs Elliott said.

For the past two years Mrs Elliott has travelled extensively visiting secondary schools and addressing community meetings throughout New Zealand presenting ‘Sophie’s story: what we missed’.

“We have presented well over 100 times and on each occasion we realise so many young people and their parents do not know about safe dating relationships. The age group most at risk of physical, psychological and sexual victimisation from current or ex partners is between 15 and 24-year olds,” Mrs Elliott said. “So having a programme aimed at year 12 students seems about right.”

Mrs Elliott acknowledged the Foundation team; co-founder Kristin Dunne-Powell, co-author of Sophie’s Legacy, and trustees Bill O’Brien, Katie Duncan and Heather Knox. “They work voluntarily and tirelessly to achieve our vision and create this legacy for Sophie.”

She also acknowledged the Foundation’s supporters and donors. “Some give their services pro-bono, some give five dollars a fortnight while others make substantial donations to our cause. There are schools who donate their mufti-day money and community and service organisations that fundraise for us. Thank you all – your generosity has made this possible.”

After a successful trial, the fully voluntary Foundation will be seeking sponsorship and funding sources to help implement the Loves Me Not programme nationwide in 2014.

Mrs Elliott says she is greatly encouraged. “I firmly believe that if Sophie had a programme like this in her final years at school she would have known when things went wrong in her relationship. I know that getting this programme off the ground is what Sophie would have wanted.

“We estimate that over 70 women have been murdered at the hands of their partner or ex-partner since Sophie’s death – there is still much to do to protect our nation’s daughters.”

Schools involved in the trial are:
• Mahurangi College, Warkworth
• Tamaki College, Auckland
• Reparoa College, Reparoa
• Rotorua Girls’ High School, Rotorua
• Horowhenua College, Levin
• St Kevin’s College, Oamaru
• Waitaki Girls’ High School, Oamaru
• Mountain View High School, Timaru
• St Thomas of Canterbury College, Christchurch

ENDS

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