No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder
Reviewed by LaVonne Roberts
Sometimes a book comes along and, long after it is absorbed, nothing is the same. Rachel Louise Snyder’s No Visible Bruises demands that we have a conversation about an insidious national epidemic—domestic violence. Ms. Snyder reports, domestic violence, or “intimate partner terrorism,” as she prefers, is “among the most difficult of subjects to report on” because it’s “vast and unwieldy, but it’s also utterly hidden.” It’s like no other crime because it’s intimate— committed by someone who’s supposed to love you in the one place you’re supposed to be safe— your home.
In America, one in every four women is a victim of domestic physical violence at some point in her life, and more than half of all murdered women are killed by a current or former partner. “Love is what makes domestic violence different from any other crime,” Ms. Snyder writes. By doing so, she shows how domestic violence transcends class, race, and religion.
Rachel Louise Snyder’s A NEW YORK TIMES TOP 10 BOOK OF THE YEAR and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction is catalyzing change and shedding light on the effect that domestic violence — often hidden inside the walls of a home for years, has on families, friends, children, and communities. Ms. Snyder makes complex domestic violence data and personal narratives accessible in a way that can be understood by not just individual victims but to families, neighborhoods, communities, society, and the abusers. As she points out, for many, the most dangerous place for an American woman to be is in her own home. Her stories demystify and disprove common myths–if things were bad enough, victims would leave, that a violent person cannot become nonviolent; that a shelter for victims is the right solution, and that domestic violence is a family matter.
By interviewing survivors of violence, family, attorneys, police officers, and even abusers, Ms. Snyder has collected a vast amount of data and research to educate created her readers about violence in the home. She uses the example of Michelle Mosure Monson, fatally shot by her abusive husband, Rocky, who killed their two children before committing suicide, to shed insight on how victims fall through the cracks, and heinous murders happen. Michelle and Rocky had two young children. She graduated high school on time and went on to take college courses, the only outside activity Rocky would allow. Michelle’s family saw less of her and the children, as Rocky increasingly controlled her. He abused drugs, flaunted guns, and took the children away to terrify her. She left and got a restraining order. Incensed, Rocky shot and killed Michelle and the children, then killed himself. “Michelle was buried with her children in the same casket, oversized, with her arms wrapped around each of them,” Rachel Louise Snyder writes, an image that haunts Michelle’s narrative and the reader’s mind.
What could I have done? That’s a question that Michelle and Rocky’s parents ask themselves obsessively. It’s the question anyone affected by intimate violence asks. After reading Rachel Louise Snyder’s book, you will understand why No Visible Bruises has been described as a book that will “save lives” by the Washington Post. Moreover, you’ll appreciate why her book is fueling a movement—and one that the #MeToo movement has helped enable.
Two things Snyder writes about, among many, could change the fact that domestic violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime in the U.S. Snyder point out that strangulation is a predictor for an impending homicide attempt, much more so than physical blows. She also points out that if a timeline of threats of violence like stalking and breaking restraining orders was shared among law enforcement officials, domestic violence shelters, and courts in different counties and states–violence could be predicted. She suggests treating restraining orders like D.U.I.s by keeping them on file, even after they have expired so that law enforcement officials and judges can be aware of a history of violence.
Ms. Snyder explores the real roots of private violence, its far-reaching consequences for society, and what it will take to address it by speaking to hostage negotiators, police officers, caseworkers, and activists fighting for policy change. By weaving in personal narratives of people like a pimp who now leads anti-violence classes for abusers and a former prison guard who’s now a restorative justice advocate, we look at violence from inside the storm. She concludes that we are still in the dark. “The United States spends as much as twenty-five times more on researching cancer or heart disease as it does on violence prevention, despite the enormous costs of violence to our communities,” she writes.
Ms. Snyder’s desire to reframe victims’ narratives to stories of survivors is palpable, as is her in-depth coverage of the perpetrators, especially those who may find redemption, and effect change in other perpetrators. This is a book that offers context to what we can’t see or understand. What’s most exciting about this book is to learn what it has done to remove shame around an uncomfortable topic and to see new policy and the development of high-risk teams within domestic-violence agencies come into fruition. Snyder’s book is a compelling read that changes how we talk about domestic violence so that we can work towards making every home safe.
For more with Rachel Louise Synder, check out the accompanying interview with Diversity Fellow LaVonne Roberts.