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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Book Review: No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder

Wow, I had no idea that a book about such a horrible topic could  be so compelling. This book reads like true crime, combined with sociology.

Ms. Snyder spent years researching domestic violence (one of several not-good names for what she also calls intimate terrorism.) She follows a couple of cases pretty intently, drilling down to the minute-by-minute of the last days. And she talks to a lot of police officers, social workers, and everyone in between: a couple of men who work with an intensive year-long prison program, a woman who works a hotline in the middle of the night, and numerous people serving on boards or committees around the country, fashioned after the NTSB's post-crash  investigations, to see if there are some fixes to the system that can save lives down the road, not focusing on placing blame.

While she does acknowledge the instances of same-sex violence and also that men can be victims, the overwhelming victims are women (and children) and so she does use pronouns in that way. And of course, if violence is going to bother you, this book is full of it from end to end. But it's so important, so crucial, to understand one of the last stigmas in our society. And in fact, an area which is getting worse. The number of familicides is going dramatic upwards, and almost all domestic acts of mass shootings began with domestic violence, from Sandy Hook to the Charleston Church murders to the first one most people remember--the University of Texas shooter in the bell tower in 1966. It's also the one area of violence in American society which is almost exclusively white men (familicides and mass shootings, that is. Not domestic violence.)

One thing that really sticks with me is how often you hear people ask "why didn't she just leave?" As if it was easy and simple (hint: it's neither.) But you never hear, "why didn't he just not hit her?" or simpler yet, "why didn't he just leave?" How come in this situation, we expect the victim, not the perpetrator, to lose her house, her job, possibly her kids, her income and financial independence, and all her family and friends (her entire support system)? There are interesting new options in terms of shelters. And also, why do we think these abusers can't change? Why do the vast majority of them get zero help, zero counseling, and then we put them back out in society and think things will be different? States that have mandatory gun turn-ins for convicted abusers have half the domestic homicide rate as other states. And yet, only a couple of states have that law. You'll be shocked at situations where judges don't give restraining orders. And how ineffective those restraining orders can be. I was shocked that 7 states (and DC) including New Jersey where I live, do not classify strangulation as a felony! It's a misdemeanor! It's also the number one predictor of a future domestic homicide.

If we want to reduce homicides in this country, if we want to save money and have stable families and children growing up in homes without abuse, we need to tackle this at the source. Police need to stop dismissing incidents as private matters that don't need to be written up. When arrests are made, they need to not be misdemeanors. The courts and social services need to be involved earlier. And most importantly, we need therapy, group therapy, support groups, and interventions that can stop the pattern, stop the cycle once and for all. Anger management doesn't help--that's actually not the issue here. We need to stop blaming victims so more of them feel safe coming forward. (Reverse the genders--or heck make everyone in the situation male--a man punched or kicked or threatened with a gun another man--and it would be a criminal, not civil issue from the get-go, and would not be a misdemeanor. Why the heck is it not as much of a crime if it's a woman on the receiving end?)

This book made me angry, infuriated, frustrated, and it kept me riveted--I read the whole thing in about 28 hours. And I think everyone needs to read it. This is a modern epidemic in America. And it's one we can tackle, if we have the stomach for it.

This book is published by Bloomsbury USA, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

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