Jelena Dokic has opened up about the “scars” she continues to live with 20 years on from her traumatic childhood.
“My experience as a domestic violence victim was something I couldn’t talk about for a very long time,” she tells 9Honey Celebrity.
“As a victim, you are scared to speak out, and you are afraid of how your story will be received in society, and you are afraid of what could be coming around the corner.
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The former World Number 4 tennis player, who is now 39, famously fled a domestic violence situation at 19. She had spent her childhood being relentlessly verbally and physically abused by her father and tennis coach, Damir Dokic.
Dokic has shared countless memories of the abuse she was subjected to in interviews and, most notably, in her 2017 memoir, Unbreakable.
Over the years, the retired athlete has risen as a fierce advocate for domestic violence victims, using her platform to raise awareness and inspire better and more available services.
“The impacts and the scars of domestic violence stay with you for the rest of your life, and it’s not just difficult when you are in the situation,” she says.
“It is difficult then, and from every moment after. When you decide to leave and escape, there is suddenly so much more fear, because you are vulnerable, and you are left to figure out what starting over looks like.”
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For Dokic, the experience of starting over was more than difficult. After she left home in 2002, the young tennis star was left on the streets with her bags and her racket.
At that time the support available for victims was close to none, but Dokic notes she was “lucky to be a professional athlete, who could earn money, and earn it quickly.”
“For many other women, whether they be young girls, older or with children, the decision to leave their family comes with so much hesitation,” Dokic says.
“The anxiety of ‘Where will I go?’ and ‘How will I support myself?’ or ‘Support my family’ is so extreme, that many simply don’t leave.”
On top of that, Dokic notes many women end up returning to their situation of domestic violence just weeks after leaving, after starting over proves too difficult, or simply impossible.
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She says that for her, as a survivor, it is at that stage of starting over where women need the most support.
“At that point, you’re not just scared of the person that you’ve been abused by, but you’re also scared of what life will look like. It never ends just there, so support is vital,” Dokic says.
“Having a safe space, having a safe environment, where you can talk about it if you want to – but also where you are safe to sleep and have access to simple things like clean clothes, food and hygiene is so important.”
She notes support services that offer these simple things “save lives” as victims are often still reckoning with their own emotional trauma when they do leave.
“You’re afraid to go to sleep at night, you’re even afraid to turn around, for fear that someone could be there – and by ‘someone’, I mean your abuser,” she says.
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With domestic violence being the leading driver of homelessness among Australian women, per Our Watch, Dokic has even floated new ideas for how the country could help victims.
“In no way am I trying to be political about this, but I do think that allowing victims early access to their superannuation could be incredibly beneficial,” Dokic says.
“I think having a bit of that help, if you do leave and decide to leave, could save lives. Because with that money, women then know that they can pay a security deposit, they can pay their rent for a month or two, until they get back on their feet.
“I think that not everything is so black and white, and in such a drastic circumstance as being a victim of domestic violence, that kind of money could truly change things. Every little bit helps.”
If you need someone to talk to about domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT or visit White Ribbon Australia at whiteribbon.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
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