16 February 2024

'Ready to be heard' - Alex Bunton and the UC Capitals shoot for domestic violence awareness

| Dione David
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Woman holding a kid

Alex Bunton’s fear turned into empowerment with the arrival of her daughter, Opal. Photo: UC Capitals.

In 2021, having escaped a violent relationship, UC Capitals centre Alex Bunton was told by authorities it would be best to lay low.

“I was told to avoid the spotlight and social media, and that’s how I’d protect myself,” she says.

The trouble was, eyes were already on her. The professional athlete had recently made a triumphant return to basketball following a short-lived injury-induced early retirement and the birth of her daughter, Opal.

But in any case, the idea of retreat didn’t sit right.

“I thought, ‘No – that’s not protecting myself. That’s diminishing myself’,” she says.

“I had already spent so much time isolated and detached from my world. I barely recognised myself anymore … I already knew what it was like not to have a voice. I was ready to be heard.”

As it turned out, Alex was as formidable off the court as she was on.

READ ALSO ‘I will fight for this team’ – first WNBL Japanese national vows to bring her A game to the UC Caps

When the WNBL floated the idea of player-led rounds, inviting teams to host matches in aid of causes close to their hearts, Alex pitched domestic violence.

“After returning to basketball, I decided to do anything I could using my platform to get the conversation going, and I knew this would be a great opportunity,” she says.

“When I had my daughter, my fear turned into empowerment and I felt so privileged to be where I was. I had a chance to reach people, possibly to help them, and to show my daughter that I could be strong and brave.

“I didn’t know how it would sit. I thought it was a long shot because domestic violence is such a taboo subject in public discussion, and perhaps even more so in women’s sports.”

But she needn’t have feared; the Caps and the WNBL were behind her 100 per cent.

“They just said, ‘We’ve got you, whatever you need’.”

Woman speaking in front of a group of women

The UC Capitals will host a Domestic Violence Awareness Round this year. Photo: UC Capitals.

The overwhelming support behind last year’s inaugural Domestic Violence Awareness Round against the Perth Lynx has set a high bar for the 2024 match on Saturday, 24 February – the season’s final game.

“It was so touching to see how many people supported it on the day: the audience, my own teammates and also other WNBL teams. Perth wore purple accessories as a sign of their support,” Alex says.

“But for me, the most amazing thing was what followed. I had some fans share their personal stories. That’s the impact I wanted – to form a community behind it.”

Head coach Kristen Veal says the match struck a chord with audiences and players.

“There’s a whole lot of support around Alex and the bravery she shows for sharing, advocating and leading recognition of this important issue,” she says.

“We knew Alex’s story and that she would be a great figure and role model in this space, but up until then we didn’t know how far and wide this issue stretched, how prevalent it was. And not everyone is in the position to be an advocate for themselves or share their story.”

READ ALSO Survivors of repeat domestic violence abuser Shay Murphy speak up to protect other women

Alex says the match is not necessarily a call out for people to share their own experiences with domestic, family or intimate partner violence – something that can be problematic for many victims.

Instead, the hope is to challenge perceptions about the “types” of people who can be impacted by domestic violence and remove the stigma from conversations about it – even in environments where it’s often perceived as important to project strength.

“My fellow Caps and I are seen as strong, powerful women in our jobs, but we’re also kind and empathetic, and we’re like everyone else … I am a basketballer, but that’s not my whole identity. I am also a mother, a domestic violence survivor and many other things,” Alex says.

“Everyone’s story is different, but so much of it happens behind closed doors that in the bright light of day, the domestic violence victim label can feel intimidating for a lot of people.

“This match is about us shining a light into those dark places and creating comfortable space where victims who want to, feel safe to share and can perhaps draw strength and healing from that.”

The UC Capitals will host the Domestic Violence Awareness Round, this time against Melbourne Boomers, at the National Convention Centre on Saturday, 24 February, at 2:30 pm. Book here.

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