After nearly 20 years of living through “horrific” domestic violence, Kristy* has turned her life around and is now using her traumatic experiences to help others.

The 43-year-old was physically, emotionally and financially abused by a former partner.

Now, she is one of the subjects in a photography exhibition showing the reality of domestic and family violence on the New South Wales Central Coast.

She said being photographed in such a vulnerable way felt empowering.

“There were parts where I was a little triggered,” she said.

“But the power of the work is in the fact that I was able to do this project and that I was able to do it in my power and not in my trauma.”

The exhibition opens at a Tuggerah theater on the Central Coast today to coincide with the start of Domestic and Family Violence Awareness Month.

The photos will be accompanied by powerful impact statements written by victims-survivors.()

Shock to create change

According to NSW Police northern region domestic and family violence coordinator Sharon Wilkinson, officers respondents to “over 140,000 domestic violence incident reports” across the state last year.

Crime data also shows that rates of domestic violence are rising in NSW.

Across the Central Coast police districts alone, officers respond to more than 1,000 reports a month on average.

In a new campaign to tackle the issue, NSW Police have partnered with a local photographer to put on an exhibition, which has been 12 months in the making.

Photographer Victoria Fitzmaurice says she wants the project to educate the community while also showing victim-survivors that there is hope.

Victoria Fitzmaurice captured most of the photos in her North Avoca studio.()

“I wanted an emotional reaction from the viewers,” Fitzmaurice said.

“The only way I was going to do that was to grab them by the throat and go, ‘look at me’.

“There is an inspirational story at the end of it, but unless we shock people, I don’t think we’re going to get any change.”

Powerful ways to increase awareness

Ms Wilkinson said it was important for the project to be driven by victim-survivors.

“What I wanted to do with this project was to really center victim-survivors’ voices on what impact domestic violence has on them,” she said.

“And then look at sensitive and powerful ways to bring that impact to the community to increase that awareness.”

Sharon Wilkinson says victim-survivors are needed to be front and center in future campaigns.()

The exhibition showcases 27 unique photographs accompanied by impact statements from real local survivors of violence.

Ms Wilkinson said it was critical that the police listened to people who lived experiences of domestic and family violence.

“We have to center victim survivor voices a lot more in strategies to reduce domestic and family violence harm,” she said.

Kristy says she is proud to have taken part in a project that pushes for change after working hard to recover from the trauma she endured.

“I rose from the ashes and pretty much decided that was not going to be my life,” she said.

“These pictures show the severity and destruction of domestic violence and why it’s so hard to get help.”

“My message would be to ask for help.”

The exhibition will move from the Red Tree Theater at Tuggerah to the Art House in Wyong on May 15.

*Kristy’s last name has been held for privacy reasons.

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