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Girls & Women

Tragic Story of Murdered British Backpacker Inspires Global Domestic Violence Campaign

By Sarah Shearman

LONDON, Feb 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — The family of Grace Millane, the 22-year-old British backpacker murdered in New Zealand, has inspired a worldwide campaign to donate handbags full of toiletries for women fleeing domestic violence.

The 'Love Grace X' project started as a local initiative to support a women's refuge in Essex, where Millane was from, but has spread globally, with volunteers using Facebook and Instagram to organise collections.

The family's initial target of 50 handbags has been hugely surpassed, with more than 1,500 distributed in Britain, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada to help women facing exclusion from jobs after having to leave their homes.

"It's incredibly cathartic," Millane's cousin Hannah O'Callaghan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email. "It has got everybody in the family involved, coming together ... and it's allowing us to make something positive from our negative."

"Everyone has heard of [Grace's death] so if we can use that platform to raise awareness of the problem of male violence and sexual abuse and domestic abuse, then we will do what we can," she said.

The Project, a New Zealand current affairs television show, has launched a nationwide appeal for handbags, while the Bank of New Zealand has announced that its 152 branches will serve as drop off points for bags and toiletries.

Last week the 28-year-old man who murdered Millane was given a life sentence with a minimum of 17 years behind bars.

"I'm glad he was sentenced and can't do it to anyone else, but we still lost Grace, we've got a life sentence ... it's changed our family forever," said O'Callaghan.

The family wanted to do something to help women in Millane's memory and got the idea about handbags from a social media post about filling bags with toiletries for homeless people.

Each one is packed with essential items such as toothpaste and shampoo as well as some luxuries including perfume and jewellery and has a gift tag with a supportive message and the project's name 'Love Grace X'.

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The family has received hundreds of messages about the project since the sentencing, including from victims and companies looking to run appeals, said O'Callaghan.

Given the how widely the campaign has spread, the family is considering turning it into a charity or foundation, which could include other support services, such as teaching about domestic violence in schools.

O'Callaghan added: "It really is overwhelming as a family that this many people want to support us."

(Reporting by Sarah Shearman @Shearmans, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)