Locally founded charity Pink Belt Project brought to forefront in new research project

Headshot of Carly Laden
Carly LadenSouth Western Times
Pink Belt Project founder Kristy Hitchens.
Camera IconPink Belt Project founder Kristy Hitchens. Credit: Jon Gellweiler/Jon Gellweiler

A locally founded charity that uses martial arts to empower female survivors of domestic violence has come to the forefront in a new research project investigating “the martial arts effect”.

The Pink Belt Project is an Australian charity founded by local Kristy Hitchens which provides martial arts scholarships to women that have survived domestic violence and sexual assault with the aim of empowering them, aiding them in their recovery and preventing further violence.

After being inspired to find a way to help a friend who had survived domestic violence, Ms Hitchens founded the project in 2018 when she discovered how much her sense of self changed after taking martial arts classes.

“I started researching the benefits of martial arts for women and whether the things I experienced myself had been experienced by other people as well,” she said.

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“I found this whole body of research and leading on from that, the capabilities of martial arts for preventing violence and recovering from violence.

“It started as a little homegrown seed of an idea to raise money for a scholarship that might want to access martial arts.

“Everyone I spoke to about the idea were really blown away and really interested in getting involved themselves so it really has grown organically.”

Since being established four years ago, the Pink Belt Project has awarded more than 100 scholarships to women across Australia.

Ms Hitchens dived into the world of martial arts after making the decision to join in after watching her son train in taekwondo.

“The club we were at was a combined kids and adults class so there were other adults in the class,” she said.

“I have always been quite an active and sporty person so I thought I would jump in and have a go.

“I had not done anything like that before but very quickly I was so blown away by how it made me feel — just punching and kicking things and the stress relief that comes with it.

“As I started working through the belt ranks, I came to realise there was this kind of self-worth and inner strength that was building and not only was that benefitting me in martial arts, it was benefitting me at work and in life in general.

“I call it the martial arts effect. Something about learning how to defend yourself just changes how you move through the world and how you see yourself.

“So teaching women martial arts is not just about giving them the skills to protect themselves, it’s about building them up and empowering them.”

Rural Clinical School of WA research fellow Dr Emma Jamieson, student doctor Simone van de Merwe, Pink Belt Project founder Kristy Hitchens, student doctor Catherine Daly and medical co-ordinator Dr Clare Willix.
Camera IconRural Clinical School of WA research fellow Dr Emma Jamieson, student doctor Simone van de Merwe, Pink Belt Project founder Kristy Hitchens, student doctor Catherine Daly and medical co-ordinator Dr Clare Willix. Credit: Carly Laden/South Western Times

The Pink Belt Project has recently come to the forefront as it teams up with the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia for a new research project to be undertaken by two of its student doctors, along with experienced medical researchers, a general practitioner and medical coordinator and Pink Belt Project board members.

Ms Hitchens said research of this caliber was critical to informing the Pink Belt Project’s future direction and raising awareness of the training’s real-life results.

“The research conclusions will be incredibly valuable tools for us in developing and shaping our work to ensure the best possible outcomes for scholarship recipients,” she said.

RSCWA medical co-ordinator Dr Claire Willix said the school’s staff and students would conduct a series of interviews this year with recipients of the Pink Belt Scholarships about their experience.

“We are grateful to the Pink Belt Project team for providing this opportunity for our student doctors to learn how to do qualitative research and gain experience in talking sensitively to women who are survivors of domestic violence,” she said.

The research project has recently been granted Human Research Ethics Approval by UWA, ensuring the project scope and approach will be undertaken in accordance with the university’s ethical standards.

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