opinion

'I work in the domestic violence space every day. Then it follows me home.'

This post discusses domestic violence and could be triggering for some readers. 

I have worked in the anti-violence space for well over 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of things, faced my share of challenges and learnt a lot of lessons along the way.

One of the hardest things for me as an Aboriginal woman who has experienced extreme violence during my life, working in this space, is showing my vulnerability.

I believe there is an expectation for Aboriginal women to be strong, resilient, to power through, regardless of obstacles we may face. To just keep moving, show no emotion, soldier on! And I have done this and done it well throughout my career as a domestic violence educator, advocate and survivor. Until recently, when everything I work towards and advocate for was staring squarely back at me.

I was faced with not being able to see my grandchildren resulting in court proceedings. My son was arrested for breach of an AVO and I resigned from my position as CEO of Mudgin-gal Aboriginal Women’s Centre after three and a half years of service.

My life was in turmoil. All the things I advocate for and feel so very strongly about were now a reflection of my own reality. I was spinning out of control at 53 years old.

Grief and resilience live together”- Michelle Obama, Becoming.

Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to become victims of violence than white women, and the burden of this falls on our shoulders, whether we are the victim, the family member or mother of the perpetrator.

For the record, I supported my daughter-in-law and advocated for her as I would any other woman. However, when my son was arrested and immediately imprisoned, the experience of both parties highlighted the double standard in place for Aboriginal people - the systems don't work for us, they work against us. 

So, as an Aboriginal woman working in the domestic violence space, I don't get to leave my work at 5pm. It follows me home.

When you are working in this space and the work you advocate for shows up in your personal life, what do you do?

Do you tell your work? 

Show your vulnerability?

Risk being spoken negatively about?

You have moments of Imposter Syndrome.

What am I doing here? 

Should I be doing this work?

I feel like such a fraud. 

You carry shame, shame you do not own, however can’t help but feel. You want to be transparent, but at what cost? 

Lateral violence?

Being deemed a hypocrite?

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Or the truth?

You are human, just a person like everyone else. 

We risk the chance of burnout, self-sabotage, guilt and resentment that can and will more than likely make the situation even worse.

Yes, Aboriginal women are strong, but it comes at a cost. We may become resentful; we may also become over sensitive and guarded. Thinking we have to carry the burden on our own. At the risk of our own well-being.

All I can do is lead with pure intention for the greater good, understanding that, despite our vulnerability, domestic violence doesn't discriminate. 

To think that others who work in the domestic violence space don’t also deal with it in their personal lives is a contradiction, when 1 in 3 women have experienced violence from the age of 15 and most people who work in the anti-violence space are women.

As Brene Brown said: "Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage. People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses." 

I share my experience not as a martyr or because I’ve got it all together. Clearly, I don’t. None of us do. 

I share it because I believe I am a real ‘badass’ in this space and intend on continuing to be just that. All any of us can do is our best. Lead by example, share your knowledge, experience authentically and work together towards reducing violence in all its forms. We all can do that. 

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 want 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: Supplied.