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"Because I Love Him" - New book an unflinching personal account of domestic violence

Brendan Foster -

Proud Dunghutti woman and author Ashlee Donohue was subjected to relentless violence by her former partner but there was one act that finally made her leave him.

It was when he threw a shoe at her.

"He nearly killed me once and I had a butcher's knife held to my throat," she said.

"Even though he had put a knife at me and busted me up and all those things, when he threw the shoe, I was done.

"I read this quote which said people will tolerate as much violence as they are subjected to in childhood and for me, the pinnacle of violence was having the shoe thrown at me.

"I have spoken to many Indigenous women and non-Indigenous women and there is always that line."

The tireless anti-violence advocate has penned a memoir called Because I Love Him about her harrowing personal journey from domestic violence to empowerment.

She said while the title of the book may shock people, domestic violence was a complicated issue.

"We were sitting in the dock in court and the judge looked at me and said why are you with this man?" she said.

"And I said it was because I love him. But it was the first time I questioned why I was with him because people never ask you that question.

"You don't want to end the relationship because a lot of the relationship is good, you just want the violence to stop."

Ms Donohue said she wrote the book to highlight how disturbingly common domestic violence is in Australia and how it's often shrouded in silence.

The chair of Warringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Service hopes by sharing her story she is breaking the misconception that victims are alone in their experiences.

"What I want this book to do is land in the right hands so that people can understand how ugly and scary and awful domestic violence is. And that being hit once is too many times," she told the National Indigenous Times.

"There were numerous times when I went back.

"There are many reasons why women stay, and it wasn't any of the reasons you hear in the media."

The recipient of the University of Technology Sydney Human Rights Reconciliation Award said domestic violence doesn't discriminate.

She said violence against women is a serious and widespread problem in Australia.

"It doesn't matter if you are black, white or brindle," she said.

"It doesn't matter how good your shoes are or how much money you earn, it doesn't matter.

"It happens in every town."

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, First Nations women are eight times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be murdered.

First Nations women will also experience more sexual violence, hospitalisation and significant health impacts from domestic violence than non-Indigenous women.

Ms Donohue, who has delivered a speech at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women forums in New York, said domestic violence should no longer be a taboo subject.

"You can believe some of the big CEOs are victims of domestic violence but they're not going to out anyone," she said.

"Women aren't going to access help because of shame because if it gets around the office, she's in a domestic relationship that could ruin someone's career.

"So that taboo stuff is still there unless you're in that space talking about it."

The 55-year-old said it was disheartening that only a fraction of domestic violence incidents made headline news.

She said through platforms like social media, a handful of individuals were shedding light on this issue by documenting every tragic outcome of domestic violence.

"For every story that makes the news there are 20 that don't," she said.

"How many times do you see an Aboriginal woman on the news headlining a domestic violence incident?

"But it's crucial that personal narratives, like mine, are shared widely in a collective effort to dismantle the barriers of silence and stigma, fostering a community where survivors can find solace, support, and strength in solidarity."

Ashlee Donohue's memoir Because I Love Him, published by Magabala Books is on sale from 1 May 2024.

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