After hearing an interview on NPR with author Rachel Louise Snyder during which she discussed her new work of journalism titled No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us, I added the title to my reading list immediately. Feeling angry and helpless as I listened, I wanted Snyder’s book like a drowning person wants a life raft — my desire to understand the reasons one human thinks he has control over another is deep and frightening. Violence in the home affects almost everyone. Verbal, physical, sexual, and psychological violence creep into our lives thanks to a culture that supports violence against women with religious doctrine, hitting children as a measure of discipline despite all the studies showing the damage done, and the persistent belief that what happens in the home is a matter for the family within that home — that domestic violence is “none of our business” because it’s a private matter.
Snyder’s work focuses on violence against women, though she acknowledges that men can be the victims of domestic violence and that LGBTQ relationships frequently suffer from domestic violence. Broken into three sections, No Visible Bruises covers stories of victims and their families, stories from batterers, and stories from the people trying to change the system (including police officers, organizations that study domestic violence laws and policies, and shelter workers). As a journalist, Snyder know she must allow everyone to voice their side of the story, so while the sections coming from batterers feels dark and a bit evil, it’s necessary for the book to have fairness and integrity.
I could rattle off the statistics Snyder shares (all of them have citations, too). I could horrify you with what I read, like when I learned that most states consider strangulation to be a misdemeanor offense, and that state laws about domestic violence didn’t exist until my lifetime. I could run through the domestic violence timeline I learned about, which helps experts chart the way a situation increases in volatility and tips into homicide (or even familicide and suicide). I could talk about how the presence of a gun changes everything. But Snyder carefully lays out all of her facts in a way that makes sense and progresses, so me simply repeating them would hurt her carefully written chapters and instead turn No Visible Bruises into a book of shock value. It’s not that.
Instead, Snyder’s work is educational, teaching readers to look for signs of domestic violence in their lives and those around them, while also heightening awareness of the costs of domestic violence in lost wages, missed education opportunities for women and their children, and taxes that pay for police and social services. Domestic violence never starts big, and people often minimize it using words like “just,” “only,” and “but.”*** Thus, our willingness to see domestic as normal or minor is challenged. Without inserting her opinions — another sign of a good journalist — Snyder’s facts begin to add up undeniably.
No Visible Bruises was one of those books that I finished quickly and felt deeply affected by. I caught myself referencing it when I was at a party, pulled by a desire to share what I had learned. I thought I knew enough about domestic violence: Bad people are punished. No one should ever hit anyone. Women are in a tough place, especially if they have children, and often don’t leave. I was surprised repeatedly by what I didn’t know: Batterers are often assigned anger management classes, though domestic violence is the product of narcissism, not anger. That asking victims to live in a shelter means they cut off all connections with the world, which is a punishment to them instead of their abuser. That children become acclimated to violence, no longer fearing explosive scenes as they happen and instead retreat mentally — and that batterers often grew up in homes with violence. That police feel annoyed by “domestics” calls because they’re messy, often ending with no one pressing charges, and yet police are asked to return to the same house repeatedly.
Highest recommendation, a necessary read in an America that is increasingly pushing “traditional” family values.
***When I read Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor back in February of 2019, I was perplexed as to how this man, who was incarcerated for murder, could write in his memoir that he was no longer a threat to society after he pays a fellow inmate to beat another prisoner to near death because someone on the outside asked Senghor to do it. His writing suggests didn’t “really” act violently because he “only” paid someone to be violent and wasn’t the aggressor himself.