There are dark episodes in New Zealand’s history when stories of unbelievable brutality not only shock the nation, but also resonate for years afterwards.
At the centre of one such episode, 14 years ago, was Simonne Butler, who will speak at Whangaparaoa Library this weekend.
“On 21 January 2003 the man who I was once in love with, the man who said he loved me, attempted to decapitate me with a samurai sword.”
And so begins Simonne’s story in her recently released book Double-edged Sword, co-written with Andra Jenkins.
The story recounts how the former Whangaparaoa Primary School student became involved with a narcissistic and unbalanced partner, Antoine Dixon, and how he left her for dead after a P and alcohol-fuelled attack.
Her wounds were so horrendous that the operation on her hands, arms and head alone took doctors nearly 28 hours.
But the book is more than just an account of a violent relationship. It also shares Simonne’s journey back from the brink, about re-building self-esteem and respect, and reaches out to help others who may be experiencing domestic violence.
She says the book draws heavily on the journals she started writing about a year after the attack.
“Writing things down was a way of trying to create some order in my life at a time when I was trying to heal, not just physically, but psychologically,” she says.
The book has been short listed in the Ngaio Marsh crime writing awards, which will be announced in Christchurch next month.
“Andra and I will be attending the awards, and we are very excited. Just to be short-listed is a huge honour.”
Simonne was two when she and her mother moved to Manly, and they lived on the Hibiscus Coast until she was 11.
“I remember it as a time of beaches, sunshine and parties. It was awesome growing up on the Coast, but I can also see how I have compartmentalised the good times and the bad. I had a step-dad at that time who would come and go, and my mother struggled with addiction. She could swing from being sweet and loving to very cruel, so these were not healthy relationships.
“The research shows that if you’ve never been abused as a child, you’re much less likely to put up with it as an adult. Sadly, violent and destructive relationships can often be traced back through generations of a family.”
Simonne believes New Zealanders need to start talking about “the hard stuff” – sex, drugs, pain, abuse, violence and mental illness.
“Domestic violence knows no gender, demographic, race, religion or socio-economic boundaries; it can affect anyone. It’s estimated that only nine percent of sexual crimes are reported and of those, less than 10 percent lead to a conviction. We are still asking things like, ‘what was she wearing and how much had she had to drink?’ when we should be asking, ‘does he have a history of violence?’
“Domestic violence is hugely unreported because victims still feel ashamed and embarrassed. I hope my book helps these people take the steps they need to take to make themselves safe.
“No matter what you have been through, you can heal. I am living proof of that.”
Simonne’s talk at Whangaparaoa library on Sunday September 24, at 4.15pm, is free.
For domestic violence help or advice, visit womensrefuge.org.nz
Win this book
Hibiscus Matters has a copy of Simonne’s book Double-edged Sword to give away.
To go in the draw, message us on Facebook, or write your name, address and daytime phone number on the back of an envelope and post to Double-edged Sword, Hibiscus Matters, Unit G, Tamariki Plaza, Tamariki Ave, Orewa 0931.
Entries close October 6.