Celebrating an Amazing Woman’s Journey: Emma’s Story
With a ten year background in case management working with vulnerable people you would think Emma Gierschick’s radar to violence would be well tuned. However, life isn’t black and white and Emma found herself in a relationship with a violent partner.
With family overseas and gradually losing contact with friends, Emma was in position so common to women groomed by violent men with a need for control. She had hope that things could change and self-referred to Family Life where they underwent counselling and received support. Things improved.
As things were looking up, the couple moved to rural Victoria for what she hoped was a fresh start, a turning point for their relationship. Things were good for a while and Emma fell pregnant.
But the honeymoon period didn’t last. The counselling having stopped with the move from Melbourne, Emma now found herself without work, without support and physically isolated. When the news came that their baby possibly had Down Syndrome, the abuse escalated.
On coming home with her little girl, who does have Down Syndrome as well as other cognitive and developmental delays, the abuse continued. Finally an intervention order was issued and Emma moved back to Melbourne with a friend who offered her refuge.
In a further twist of unimaginable bad fortune, Emma discovered she had breast cancer. Advanced and aggressive, she had to have surgery within a week of diagnosis and an immediate course of chemotherapy.
She fought her ex-partner for custody of her little girl, throughout her cancer treatment. Fighting two battles, the cancer and the outdated family law legislation that failed to cater to the needs of children with special needs.
Emma has written about children’s rights, raising the profile of children with a disability in a family violence situation, which has been submitted to parliament and federal government. She presents around Australia at various conferences discussing the increased vulnerabilities of children with disabilities and has developed a Special Needs Assessment Template that is being implemented by professionals and organisations around the country.
She is now in remission and committed to continuing to raise the profile of children with a disability who have experienced trauma and family violence.
“Whenever I turned to Family Life I was treated with dignity and respect, and that is so important when your self-esteem has been eroded, when you feel judged and at fault.” Emma said.
And when congratulated on her Woman of the Year Award, she says, “I didn’t do it on my own. Family Life were instrumental in helping me get back on my feet.”
Nobody can judge Emma as being anything but extraordinary. Resilience in the face of so many challenges doesn’t begin to describe her journey. She recognises that all these experiences have made her who she is today. Able to advocate for so many causes and for her to have insight into the many challenges that women and children in domestic violence situations face.
Recognised by the Australian Financial review as one of the top 100 Women of Influence in 2018, Emma has been a leading voice presenting to parliament, the Royal Commission into Family Violence and is a sought-after advisory to MPs, service providers and local government.