Inside The Gym Helping Survivors Fight Back



The unique programme was founded by survivor Donna Lyon, who calls it “a creative and physical approach to dealing with trauma”. For the dozens of survivors who have been through the programme, it is something much more profound. “I can’t explain what happened to me. But it was absolutely life-changing,” says 55-year-old Kellie, who experienced decades of domestic violence at the hands of her late husband.

The workshop begins with the women seated at metal tables, writing out their responses to a writing prompt for three minutes. Then there’s a short discussion with each sharing what they’ve written with one another. Then it’s time to box.  They partner with one another, and sometimes with a trainer, wearing boxing pads and guiding their jabs. There are group drills, games, and, on the sidelines, conversation. Laughter. Swearing. Most importantly, a sense of solidarity.

“We punched the bags for six minutes: 30 seconds on and 10 seconds off. And when we finished, I just felt something change. I just sat there and sobbed and sobbed. It was almost like tears of freedom, rather than tears of trauma."

– Kellie

“I think looking down on something, and punching it, was taking my power back, because I’ve been under those punches for 23 years of my life.”

For women who have survived years of abuse, boxing offers to restore something many have lost: a sense of power and agency. A 2020 peer-reviewed article, published in the International Journal of Wellbeing concluded the eight-week programme does assist survivors in their recovery. It found there was a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms, an improvement in overall wellbeing, and reduced levels of depression, anxiety and stress.

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