real life

'Four years after leaving my violent partner, my son went to jail. I blame myself.'

This post deals with domestic violence, and could be triggering for some readers.

Late one evening on a warm night in February 1997, I heard a knock at my window. It was my ex-partner, Ronny. After stumbling through the dark to keep from waking Mum and the children, I opened the door for him. 

The stink of alcohol and his dirtiness hit me, but I didn’t say anything. I knew there was no point. I turned away, but then Ronny said, “Babe wait. Come out here. Somebody wants to see you.” 

“Who?” I asked, still groggy from my sleep. 

I turned to follow him down the driveway towards a parked taxi. Its lights were on so I assumed someone wanted to talk to me. I didn’t feel scared, nor did I think anything was about to happen. I was dressed in my pyjama shorts and a singlet and thought for a brief second that perhaps I should put on a jumper. 

Just then, Ronny turned around and looked me in the face. I thought he was going to put his arm around me or kiss me. I started to giggle, and then I saw his face change right before my eyes; his eyes were cold and dark. My heart began to race as he spat, “What were you doing down the laneway at the Block with another man?” 

I looked at him, puzzled, and replied, “What are you talking about?” 

“You know what I’m talking about,” he raged. 

Suddenly, he punched me in my face with such force that I fell to the ground. 

I felt my top teeth pierce through my bottom lip. 

He grabbed me by my hair with both hands, dragging me onto my knees. I put my hands on his, trying to stop him from ripping out my hair. 

I was screaming, “No! I'm sorry! Someone help me!"

I cried out for my mum. 

Then Ronny started to hit me continuously in my face.

With every punch he yelled, “You wanna kiss other men.”

I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “I’m sorry, Stop! I love you. Mum, mum, anybody HELP ME!”

I thought somebody would help me. There was a taxi in the driveway and at least 25 people staying in the hostel. Then, I felt an enormous thud on my back - he had started to kick me. He kicked so hard that his shoe came off. I could feel blood dripping down my face as I was trembling. My voice was hoarse from screaming, and my knees felt like they were on fire. Eventually he stopped, and I tried to stand up, but couldn’t. 

The next thing I remember is being pulled onto my knees by my hair and him pointing a butcher’s knife in my face. I heard Ronny’s vicious, slurred and drunken words as he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I’m going to gut you like a yellowbelly.” 

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I’m not sure if it was tears, blood, or both, but I blinked, and with that blink my life flashed before me. All I could think was, who’s going to look after my babies? 

You would think this incident would be enough to make me leave for good, yeah? Well, I didn’t. Why? I still don’t know. 

What I did know at the time was I wanted my children to grow up knowing their father, because I never knew mine, and I was willing to do this by any means possible – I didn’t even think at the time that my choices affected my children.

We have all heard it - I stayed for the children - what we don’t hear is the impact staying has on them. One of my biggest lessons in life has been taking responsibility for my part in the impact that DV had on my kids.

We think because they don’t necessarily see it; they aren’t impacted. That’s not true, children feel the tension, they see the bruises; they hear the screaming and fighting.

They don't have to see it to be impacted by it - yet so many still today believe this lie. The lies we tell ourselves.

The night I finally decided to leave, I called the police. I remember Ronny being so calm. He was as cool as a cucumber while I ran around like a blue arse fly, explaining what he had done to me. He went with the officers without saying a word. 

Before he walked out the door, he turned and said: "I'll be out tomorrow, I'll see you then."

The fear that instilled my body was beyond anything I had experienced before; I knew what he was capable of. I knew he had the ability to kill me.

It’s this insight that I believe saved me, I had only thought he could kill me once before, outlined above. This incident was the second time. I wasn’t waiting around for a third.

But even after I left, the impact on the kids was clear to see. Especially my son, who only four years later would end up in prison himself. 

During his young life, his father was in and out of prison and we would visit him. Dad would be shiny and healthy and loving and kind. I believe by taking my children to visit their father in jail; I normalised it. I made it seem like going to jail was ok. 

The first time I visited my son in jail, the guilt was debilitating. All l I could think was, ‘what did I do to my baby?’.  

It wasn’t easy. I had a lot of healing to do.

I had bouts of deep longing for Ronny, long after I left. Working through those feelings was the hardest. I didn’t have children with him to raise them on my own. I always thought we would be together forever, I imagined growing old with him. 

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And that right there is the catch. The majority of women don’t have children with someone in the hope to be a single parent. 

And yet that is what is expected when we leave abusive relationships. That we become single in every aspect. And it is hard, and it is emotionally taxing and it is one of the main reasons women go back or don’t leave at all. 

We need to stop asking women why they don't leave; it's not that simple.

I believe this is where we miss the mark in our quest to eliminate violence against women. 

We are too focused on leaving and the aftermath, when we need to focus on producing constructive resources and education around prevention. 

We need men to take the lead on this or to at least walk side by side with women in the fight against violence. 

And they can do it. Look how quickly the legislation was changed with the ‘one punch’ law. Why? Because fathers and mothers stood up for their sons - they need to do this for their daughters as well. 

Aboriginal women also need to be heard: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience far higher rates of violence than any other women in Australia.

A lot of the anti-violence messaging and campaigns are viewed through a white lens which doesn't see Aboriginal women - the women who are impacted the most. 

Ashlee Donohue is a proud Aboriginal woman from the Dunghutti nation, born and raised in Kempsey, NSW. An Author, Educator and Advocate for topics specifically surrounding anti-violence, anti- racism and Aboriginal women. You can read more about her incredible work here.  

Mamamia recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the unheard victims of domestic violence and wants to break the silence. In 2022, we’re making a commitment to tell more of their stories, amplify their voices, raise awareness of the issue, and be united in our conversations about how we end violence against women for good.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

Feature Image: Getty.