Mandurah domestic abuse survivor Katherine Houareau urges others to share their story

Mandurah domestic violence survivor Katherine Houareau is sharing her lived experience to empower people to speak out. Photo: Supplied.
Mandurah domestic violence survivor Katherine Houareau is sharing her lived experience to empower people to speak out. Photo: Supplied.

"One of the biggest things I have learnt is to use your voice and do it from a place of authenticity, own your story," says domestic abuser survivor, Katherine Houareau.

Ms Houareau has also lived through child sexual abuse and intergenerational trauma but she has used her own pain to help others.

She founded Changing Lives Australia, an organisation which works to empower people; and she uses her voice to speak about her own experience to help remove any negative stigma associated with abuse and encourage others to speak out.

"People do not realise what is going on," Ms Houareau says.

"If we do not talk about it we cannot fix it, we can't heal and we can't change that continuing narrative, which is how intergenerational trauma occurs.

If we do not talk about it we cannot fix it, we can't heal and we can't change that continuing narrative, which is how intergenerational trauma occurs.

"If you do not talk about it that pattern carries on and sometimes that pattern manifests in different ways, you may experience mental health issues such as depression, alcohol or drug misuse."

Ms Houareau, from Mandurah on Western Australia's south-west coast, started talking about suicide attempts to her friends on Facebook and YouTube where she found more and more people reaching out to her from all over the world.

"Now I am owning my story around the sexual traumas and family and domestic violence because I felt I was ashamed of it, and if I did not talk about it I could not help anyone else going through it," she says.

"People look up to me now and I am really humbled by that, they said I did not realise how much I have impacted their lives."

Changing Lives Australia came about by Ms Houareau finding her voice and needing a platform to talk to people so they knew they were not alone.

Ms Houareau says knowing how silence can continue the cycle of intergenerational trauma and sexual assault was one of the reasons she started the organisation.

"It is about empowering people to make a difference, whether it is through mental health first aid training, speaking engagements, laughter yoga or community activities, we want people to have a voice," she says.

"Whether you have lived experience or not it is about empowering people to realise that it is okay to talk about it and to not give things power to take us down.

"Truths can give you the greatest strengths, people do not realise because they get told to suppress it and not talk about it.

"Because I had to advocate for myself it was a natural thing for me to learn how to use my voice through advocacy."

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Ms Houareau says initially it was difficult for her to disclose to anyone what had happened and she found it critical in high school that she started to find her own voice.

Being disbelieved and threatened about speaking up made her realise that something was not right with the narrative.

One confidant who did believe her felt disempowered to help because of their own traumas.

"It was too traumatic and volatile to bring it up and they were afraid of the consequences of having her voice, which is really sad," she says.

When Ms Houareau did speak about what happened she says at the time there was a lack of support and empathy from police because the abuse had occurred years prior.

"That is something that haunts you, when you have an experience that is either emotional, psychological, physical or financial abuse, when you speak up as a survivor it is the first time you talk about it you need to feel validated and you need to feel heard," she says.

"That literally broke me.

"I walked away from that totally invalidated and unheard, and stepped into that narrative that had been continuing through the family, it was pretty harsh to realise that."

To help break the cycle, Ms Houareau said as a community people needed to be mindful about how to have conversations around what a healthy relationship looks like.

"We should try to teach our children what is a good secret and what is a bad secret, all this sort of stuff will change the narrative in how we support people," she says.

"By having conversations and realising it is not okay is something that we need to reflect on.

"As a community we all have a responsibility, we should all work together as a community because we are a community and we all care, which is my whole approach, it makes a big difference.

"Prevention is better than cure - early intervention about what a healthy relationship looks like - we need to give kids a voice and be part of that narrative."

Ms Houareau will be keynote speaker at a White Ribbon event in Busselton on August 16 in support of the community taking a stand against violence and abuse to women and girls. trybooking.com/BSVCZ

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