Arman Abrahimzadeh is a gentle, articulate and intelligent young man. His voice breaks as he recalls how his baby sister would hug their dead mother’s clothing after she was murdered by their father in front of 300 people at the Adelaide Convention Centre three years ago.
“[My younger sister] was 12 when it happened,” he says.
“She would grab pieces of mum’s clothing and cry herself to sleep. It broke my heart but that was her way of dealing with it.”
That Arman – chosen as an ambassador for White Ribbon’s campaign to end violence against women – has turned out so well is a testament to his personal strength and the influence of his mother Zahra.
Despite growing up suffering and witnessing regular violence at the hands of his domineering father, the 26-year-old will not allow himself to be become part of the cycle of abuse that is so often passed down generations.
“Violence was always there from my earliest memories,” he says.
“It was as normal as having a meal. Once when I was about five, we were sitting down as a family playing a board game. I lost, so had a childish moment and threw all the pieces into the air. My father grabbed me, hit me [repeatedly] and threw me against the wall a few times. He used to scare the hell out of me.”
His dad Ziallo, now serving a minimum 26-year jail term, terrorised Zahra, Arman and his two sisters with physical abuse using his hands, whips and belts, as well as verbal threats and financial control. He once threw his wife out of a window.
Zahra, who was 44 when she died, and her children left Ziallo four years ago after he threatened to kill them all and Arman had to wrestle his hand away from a kitchen knife.
“He was really furious,” Arman remembers. Despite a restraining order and repeated reports to police, Ziallo continued to make death threats and, chillingly, pledged to “make history” in revenge.
A respected pillar of the Persian community, whose job involved helping new immigrants settle in Australia, Ziallo attempted to use his cultural background as an excuse in court – a claim his son deems “pathetic”.
“You don’t have to follow certain role models in your life,” says Arman. “If I was to follow in my father’s footsteps, I would hate myself. If it’s not right, you are better off getting out and finding your own way.”
There are many stereotypes about domestic violence, with victims often portrayed as weak and downtrodden. But that’s not how Arman remembers his mum.
“My mum was loving, caring and kind,” says Arman.
“She was fun, she was brave and she had the patience of a saint and superhuman strength to deal with everything she went through.”
Despite the pressure of giving evidence at his father’s murder trial, sitting through his mother’s inquest, being in the headlines and dealing with his own grief, Arman is determined to use his ambassador role to blow the whistle on violence against women.
“Nothing is going to bring my mum back,” he says.
“But my family and I experienced violence first-hand so I know exactly how victims feel. I want to let them know there is help out there.”
You know his mother would be proud.
Monday November 25 is White Ribbon Day. To find out more or donate, go to whiteribbon.org.au.