GOOD CAUSE: Senior Sergeant Rebecca McDonald has been nominated for an Everyday Hero award.
GOOD CAUSE: Senior Sergeant Rebecca McDonald has been nominated for an Everyday Hero award. Rob Williams

'I learnt that the hard way': How violence shaped a career

IT WAS a moment 28 years ago when then 17-year-old Rebecca McDonald was running down the street, escaping a domestic violence attacker, that changed her life. She can remember the hot bitumen under her bare feet as she ran as fast as she could from a violent and abusive home life.

She had nowhere to go, no support and no money - but she knew she had to leave for her own safety.

It was ultimately a decision that not only changed her life but would lead to the lives of countless others, facing the same situation, being changed too.

Senior Sargent Rebecca McDonald, Officer in Charge of Ipswich Police Prosecution Corps, has spent decades using her experience to support victims just like her.

Ms McDonald knows what domestic and family violence victims are going through because she did too.

"I came from a background where domestic violence was part of everyday life in our family," she said.

It was the day a teenage Rebecca was hit in the face while in the kitchen of their family home, hitting the stove as she fell, that she decided she had to leave.

"I was on the floor and that's when I realised this is not going to get any better. I recall running up the street on hot bitumen in bare feet as fast as I could to get help. That was the moment I realised nobody was going to save me but myself," she said.

"I knew I didn't have any support. We were part of a church community that just swept everything under the carpet. I had no finances so I was completely on my own.

"I left because I couldn't take it any more."

Rebecca left the family home when she was 17 and spent three weeks in emergency accommodation before she was able to find refuge with her grandmother.

Her attacker was never charged.

Six months later she started in the police academy.

"I have always had an overdeveloped sense of justice because if it's right, it's right, if it's wrong, it's wrong," Ms McDonald said.

"Some people don't want to help because it's an uncomfortable conversation, it's an unpalatable conversation and it's going to be emotionally taxing on them so they'd rather not have anything to do with it.

"Someone needs to be there for those people and someone needs to listen and do what they can and give them some hope for the future.

"As police, we do our very best in the constraints of what we can do with legislation and policy but there is so much heart involved."

She said her history had given her better perspective in her role as a police officer.

"It gives me more credibility. It's not like I've just read the book, it's because I know what it feels like to be scared, unsafe and isolated," Ms McDonald said.

"Credibility comes from having walked through that journey and being ahead of them so you can say 'me too'.

"From running down the street in bare feet to sitting her as the Officer in Charge of Prosecution Corps where I get to help people in the community, I never thought that would happen and I'm not going to waste that opportunity.

"We are the sum of our experience and even bad experiences shape us. I'm a different parent and a different police officer because of what I went through."

Ms McDonald is the first person in Ipswich to be nominated for this year's QBANK Everyday Heroes Awards for her work supporting domestic violence victims in Ipswich.

Ipswich Prosecution Corps and Ipswich Police have partnered with City Hope Church's City Care program to put together care packages for people escaping domestic violence situations.

Handbags full of personal items and backpacks stocked with supplies for children are given to domestic violence victims who have nothing.

"It was certainly something that was lacking in the community. As police, we can do a certain amount to help people, front line and through the courts, but we wanted to go that little bit further to show much we appreciate what they're going through and help in a more tangible way," Ms McDonald said.

"This is a way of giving people something that will value-add to their lives now and showing them there is a way forward.

"Somebody has thought about you and put some things together to make an awful situation a bit better."

She had nothing when she ran from an abusive situation and nobody provided her with the essentials. "I lost everything, I had to leave everything behind. When police remove you from the scene, you don't have time to pack," she said.

"I know what it feels like to have nothing and to have to re-define yourself. You only have the clothes on your back.

"My heart has always been for people and their circumstances and if I can make their circumstances better, even if briefly, then I want to be that person and encourage others to. "We don't know how much that is going to carry them through."

For more information, to donate or to get involved see City Care on cityhope.com.au.

Domestic violence support has come a long way

The way Rebecca McDonald and her colleagues support domestic violence victims is very different from how she was treated when she was a victim.

She was 17 when she fled an abusive home life and was forced to recover without support.

"There were two male police officers and to them, it was just a job. There was no support from my family when I left and I was treated like I was making up a story. They did their job but they didn't do any more," Ms McDonald said.

"The space around domestic violence has completely changed. The police service has got so much better and aside from being first response there is a level of emotional involvement. It's completely different.

"I wish it was like this when I was going through it but when you know better you do better.

"I was made to feel like I wasn't a victim and all I am glad for is we're not like that any more, we have moved forward.

"There is heaps more support now at every level, like the high-risk team that looks at the problem holistically and not just as a first response. It's a whole different landscape."

Ms McDonald learnt how to be resilient the hard way but said there were lessons others could learn from her experience.

"You have to believe in yourself. The only person that has your back is you," she said.

"I have been very fortunate that people I have surrounded myself with have supported me. You are only as successful as your five closest friends. I married well. My husband has always been a soft place to fall.

"It comes down to having the right people in your corner who are value-adding to your life and if they're not cheering you along then they shouldn't be in your life.

"This is something I have learnt along the way."