Book Review: No Visible Bruises; what we don’t know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us

It seems like another life sometimes when I handled divorce cases, but it wasn’t that long ago that I regularly worked with clients to develop safety plans. The most dangerous time for a woman and her children is when she is attempting to leave a man, sometimes this means filing for divorce even after years of separation is incredibly dangerous as well because the divorce makes it real.

Let me just stop and say that I’m aware that men are often victims too and that same sex relationships often make bright gender lines even more difficult to draw, but for the sake of this post and the book, the victims of domestic violence that are discussed are female.

Rachel Louise Snyder, in No Visible Bruises; What we don’t know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us, lays out in chilling detail why the home is literally the most dangerous place for a woman. She shares that while she uses the term “domestic violence,” the correct terminology to capture the entire plethora of issues and experiences is “intimate partner terrorism.” The death toll for women and children rivals the worst wars for casualties and the fact that mass shootings are linked to domestic violence of some kind (either the shooters were victims as children or perpetrators themselves) appears to be something that not many are talking about.

Why women don’t leave is the question everyone asks internally and externally when a women or child is harmed by domestic violence. One partial explanation is that men (and sometimes women) employ “coercive control,” which begins with a variety of activities seem as “grooming” or preparing the target to be abused, and the selection of a person vulnerable to such preparation. While other countries have laws punishing the pattern of behavior that often leads to physical abuse, the United States does not.

The author further states:

Victims who side with their abusers during police calls do not do so out of instability, as many law enforcement officers assume, but out of a measured calculation towards their future safety.

The book illustrates each of these points by recounting a real story of a family where the father escalated from coercive control to violence that took the lives of many of the family. The devastated extended family on both sides were interviewed by the author as the story was put together.

In describing why the victim recanted her story at one point, the author explains:

She recanted to stay alive. She recanted to keep her children alive. Victims stay because they know that any sudden move will provoke the bear.

Victims often view their abusers as being stronger than the system or somehow better able to navigate it, which is further compounded by how the system relies upon the victim to be calm, rational and organized. Most victims of domestic violence are none of these things after a trauma. To expect otherwise, is not reasonable. The personalities, the independence, the personhood of the victims has been whittled away; they are a shadow of their former selves, at times.

As States review the deaths from domestic violence and trace back through the process that the families go through over years and all the people who came into contact with the families, patterns do emerge and some programs have been implemented to close gaps and identify areas of intervention. Each State does this differently and has different issues to deal with. The author, for instance, writes about Montana and how literally everyone has an arsenal at home and regularly openly carries guns. There is an issue in States where it is accepted to carry firearms regularly about how to keep families safe. Additionally, it is often argued that for women to protect themselves, they should arm themselves.

The author debunks this perspective, as follows:

Indeed, this is the single most effective argument I know for why it doesn’t make sense to arm women with guns to protect them against men with guns: because arming a woman with a gun is asking her to behave like a man, to embody the somatic and psychological and cultural experience of a man while simultaneously quelling all that women have been taught. It says to women, if you want to protect yourself from violent men, you need to become violent yourself. To Sinclair, this is exactly the wrong way to the solution. It’s not women who need to learn violence; it’s men who need to learn nonviolence.

Let’s take a small step back from the adult issues and touch on the fact that the vast majority (maybe all of them, but there is probably an outlier somewhere) of batterers and victims have experienced domestic violence in some way as a child. Even if the home is amazing and the violence is at the hands of friends or distant relatives, seeing or experiencing violence when one’s brain is still developing changes that child forever.

Also, the socialization of boys and young men that is pervasive in this country teaches the males among us to behave a certain way towards the world. The author talks about “fatal peril,” which is:

the exact instant when a man’s sense of expectation is most threatened. What the world owes him, what his own sense of self demands. Something challenges him—maybe his partner says something, or does something, and he reacts. Maybe a guy in a bar insults him. Maybe some coworker tells him he fucked up. It’s a split second that changes everything. Eyes narrow, chests pump, fists clench, muscles tense, blood rushes. The body language is almost universal, running across race and class and culture, sometimes even species. A man, a lion, a bear. The body reacts the same way. Fatal peril. A moment that, Jimmy and Donte hope to eventually show these men, is a decision. Violence as a learned behavior. We don’t know it, but we have another word for fatal peril. “Snap.” On the news, the mourning neighbor, the crying coworker: he just snapped. But the snap is a smoke screen, a cliché, a fiction. The snap doesn’t exist.

We can and must do better in our homes and in our country. This kind of socialization begins when we say, “boys will be boys” to excuse bad or violent behavior. This kind of socialization begins when we don’t give our boys the freedom to have and express their emotions. This kind of socialization occurs when we don’t give our boys the language to name their emotions and the tools to handle them.

Without interventions, without education, we are doomed to repeat these same mistakes in the future.

The author cites the TED talk about shame by the amazing Brene Brown in this way …

In the now famous TED talk called “Listening to Shame,” Brene Brown, who calls herself a “vulnerability researcher,” talked about the correlation of shame with violence, depression and aggression, among others. She said shame is “organized by gender.” For women, it’s about a competing set of expectation around family, work, relationships; for men, it’s simply, “do not be perceived as … weak.”

With the rise in the #metoo movement and how many women are moving into positions of power, men are having to confront this more and more. A disturbing trend is the rise in familicide, when a member of a family kills the rest of the family and then themselves. The men who do this are usually white, upper middle class, come from affluent backgrounds but encounter a set back. Rather than face the shame of bankruptcy or losing their status, some choose an entirely different path.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: No Visible Bruises; what we don’t know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us

  1. Looks like a book I would love to read. A few years ago I read a book by Lundy Bancroft called Why Does He Do That? since I myself have a pattern of being with angry controlling men (just like my father by the way.) Even with all the equalities we have now I still think most men have the expectation of being the one in control of everything… relationships, work, society, etc. Seems almost impossible to unteach them of it in many cases.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder if talking about ‘respect’ a lot is a red flag in men. In my book, you earn respect by being intelligent, kind, in control of yourself, etc. My ex thought he should be respected as a man, and was borderline abusive when he felt he didn’t get the respect to which he was entitled.

    Liked by 1 person

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