Content warning: This story contains depictions of violence against women and First Nations people, as well as the name and image of a deceased person.

Ballardong Wardandi Noongar woman Courtney Ugle remembers clearly the day her mum Jody was murdered.

“It was the worst day of my life: March 9, 2016,” Courtney told triple j Hack.

That day, Courtney got a call from her brother, and by the frantic tone in his voice, she knew instinctively that something was very, very wrong.

“He just said, something has happened at mum’s house, you need to get there now,” Courtney explained.

Police and ambulances were already there when Courtney arrived. The man Jody had been seeing on and off for years was standing outside the front door.

“I said, ‘What the f*** did you do?’ screaming and knowing that he had a history of beating my mum and hurting her,” she said.

The first responders on the scene told Courtney that her mum wasn’t in good shape, and she and her sister followed the ambulance to the hospital.

“That drive behind the ambulance with the sirens and our mum in the back, [we were] praying to a higher power hoping that she’s going to be okay.”

“I’ll never forget the nurse that came in. She was crying and she was shaking. She just said that the paramedics did everything that they could but your mum has passed away. And later that night, he [Jody’s partner] was charged with her murder.”

The man that killed Courtney’s mum is currently in jail, serving a life sentence.

The man who killed Courtney’s mum, Jody, is serving a life sentence for her murder.(Supplied: Courtney Ugle)

But he wasn’t the first man to hurt Jody.

Courtney said she and her siblings grew up around love, but when her parents separated, Jody was abused by partner after partner.

“It was ongoing and constant, and with every single man that my mum had a relationship with, the violence was there, fuelled by drugs and alcohol.

“It really breaks my heart that that mum thought that was what she was worthy of,” Courtney said.

The lifelong consequences of violence

Courtney is one of more than 1,000 children and young people living in Australia who have lost a parent to domestic violence-related homicide, according to research from Melbourne University.

But as DV homicide researcher Kathryn Joy explained, that estimate is several years old and likely an underestimate of the true figure.

“It’s a bit tricky, because we don’t have centralised systems for certain things and it’s very hard to get data,” they told Hack.

Kathryn is a victim-survivor themself: their father killed their mother when Kathryn was just a baby and received a manslaughter sentence of eight years in prison.

When their father was released, after less than three years in jail, Kathryn and their brothers were returned to his care.

“In my case, for example, with no record of family violence before the homicide we would not be counted as children who have lost a parent to domestic homicide,” Kathryn said.

“So there are huge issues with how we’re counting these children.”

Until recently, no updated data existed on the prevalence of children and young people’s exposure to domestic and family violence. But a recent study by Griffith University found that experience is much more common than researchers had previously understood.

“We did a national study on children’s experiences and their self-reported use of violence in the home, and we found roughly 50 per cent, or one in two children, had reported they grew up with some form of domestic and family violence,” Griffith University criminologist Silke Meyer told Hack.

That data is a spectrum that takes into account things like verbal abuse and coercive control, all the way to threats to kill and non-fatal strangulation.

Professor Meyer said experiencing or witnessing domestic and family abuse as a child can have lifelong consequences.

“Women experiencing domestic and family violence in adulthood have a higher prevalence rate of childhood experiences of DV than women in the general population.”

“And similarly, men who use violence have a higher childhood trauma rate than men in the general population.”

Forgotten victims

Despite the prevalence of exposure to domestic and family violence, experts say few support services exist specifically for children.

“There’s a real need for child-centred services,” Kathryn Joy said.

“Children are grouped in with their parents, the victim of the violence or the harm … [support services are] not really necessarily seeing children as primary victims, as a whole other individual who needs certain things that might differ from their parents,” they said.

Social work student and victim-survivor advocate Conor Pall has experienced this first-hand.

“For me, home wasn’t really ever a safe place growing up,” the 20-year-old told Hack.

Conor Pall now works as a victim-survivor advocate and wants to give young people a voice.(Supplied: Conor Pall)

When Conor was 11, his parents separated. Conor wanted to live with his mother, but said he was “never given the agency to choose”.

The violence got worse after the split, and after a few years, Conor accompanied his mum to court to get a family violence intervention order.

After learning that Conor was still a minor at 17, the magistrate told him to leave the courtroom because it “wasn’t a place where children need to be present”.

Conor said the magistrate’s decision to direct him to leave left him in tears and left his mum behind in court with the perpetrator.

“My experience was never, ever considered by the magistrate’s court where my brother and I were only ever referred to as the victim’s children,” Conor said.

“We were never referred to as victims in our own right, which meant that our experiences were never given weight.”

Like Courtney, Conor said he knew something wasn’t quite right at home from the time he was a small child, and understood the need to get support to heal from a young age.

But his experience of trying to access those services left him scarred.

He says he was asked by a service provider during a phone call whether he was the perpetrator of violence in the home, which distressed him so much he says he didn’t reach out for help again for another 18 months.

“Young boys don’t wake up one day and decide to use violence. They often see it every day perpetrated in their home. They might reach out for support and they’re told no,” Conor said.

Federal Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said in a statement that the Commonwealth is prioritising the needs of children through the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children.

The measures include extra funding for an early intervention trial aimed at boys at risk of violence, and extra funding to help child victim-survivors reach developmental and social milestones.

The Commonwealth and all state and territory governments have pledged to end gender-based violence “within one generation”.

Intervention and education

Both Conor and Courtney believe strongly that intervention and education can break cycles of violence.

Conor visits schools and shares his story with boys and adolescent men. He said it’s important to showcase positive models of masculinity.

“If we’re not giving young men an alternative to what they’re seeing at home, how are we breaking the cycle of family violence and male violence in this country?”

“I had a really strong male role model in my grandfather, my mum’s dad. And he and my grandma have been married for 60 years, so I had that alternative to look towards,” Conor said.

Courtney runs an early intervention program for Aboriginal girls to promote healthy relationships called Young Luv through Djirra, an Aboriginal family violence support service.

Courtney Ugle (right) is a keen AFL player and say joining a VFLW team saved her life and gave her something positive to focus on.(Supplied: Courtney Ugle)

“We are 33 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family and domestic violence, and we are eight times more likely to be killed as a result of family and domestic violence than our non Indigenous counterparts,” Courtney said.

She also runs her own company, Waangkiny, which means speaking in Noongar language, to share her story with First Nations communities and break down the stigma of silence.

“I’m not the only one, and I’m not going to be the last one with a story like this. I’ve just got a big mouth and I want to share my story with the world.”