A weight off Natasa’s shoulders

Natasa Christidou had no one to turn to growing up.

A victim of family violence and sexual abuse, she had no one to tell of the horrific injuries inflicted upon her.

The physical and emotional effects haunt the 47 year-old Morwell resident to this day – she’s blind in her right eye and has trouble forming close relationships – but she has found a silver lining with her Chihuahua, Josette.

Not wanting any child to experience the “psychological trauma” of giving a victim impact statement to police, Natasa is fundraising to train Josette as a psychiatric therapy dog agencies can use when dealing with victims of child abuse.

“I was an adult when I went to the police and it was so confronting.I wasn’t expecting it to bring me back into the past, it opened up a Pandora’s Box,” Natasa said.

Investigators currently use trauma dolls when dealing with child abuse and domestic violence cases.

Instead of telling an officer or psychologist about the abuse, children can talk to the doll or point to body parts where abuse occurred.

But Natasa said through her experience she believed this was ineffective, because a doll was a friend children wanted to protect.

“Kids don’t like to talk about that kind of thing and that’s why I want to use Josie. They can pat her, and instead of telling the police, they can tell Josie what happened,” Natasa said.

Natasa said she aimed to prevent children from suffering in silence; something she said was her biggest mistake.

“The story I created to protect myself boomeranged; in trying to protect myself I’ve alienated myself from so many beautiful experiences,” she said.

She said only recently she began to admit to herself the reality of her childhood and she did not want other victims to miss out on the opportunities of life.

“It’s become my life mission to give these kids the confidence to speak out. You’ve got to say it, not hide it like I did,” Natasa said.

If successful in her training, Josette will become the smallest service dog in the Southern Hemisphere and feature in the Guinness World Records.

Natasa is looking to work with local schools and organisations interested in hosting fetes to raise money for Josette’s training and awareness of abuse against children. Those wanting to contribute donations, or are interested in hosting an event, can email josiemindog@gmail.com or phone Natasa on 0400 733 233.

If you are experiencing family violence, phone Triple Zero (000) for immediate assistance.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, phone the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292.

For counselling and support phone the National Family Violence Hotline on 1800 737 732.