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  • Anna Loi

Why we are all responsible for domestic violence

A reflection on Rachel Louise Snyder’s book "No visible bruises"


In a world where women face violence every day, it is crucial to discuss the role of patriarchy in perpetuating gender-based violence and to advocate for systematic societal changes. 


Anna Loi


“If tomorrow it’s me, if I don’t come back tomorrow, mother, destroy everything. If it’s my turn tomorrow, I want to be the last.”

- Cristina Torre Cáceres, 2011


A few months ago, I read a mind-blowing book written by Rachel Louise Snyder about domestic violence. In this book, she goes against the mainstream depiction of violence against women, which often portrays the perpetrators as monsters, people who should be entirely excluded from society. Her book, titled “No visible bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us”, effectively dismantles the myths that surround the phenomenon of domestic violence. These myths perpetuate harmful misconceptions. 


Firstly, the belief that victims would simply leave ignores the complex dynamics of abuse, which often involve fear, financial dependence, and psychological manipulation. Secondly, the notion that abusers never change ignores the potential for support systems that can lead to transformation. Additionally, the assumption that a woman's home is inherently safer disregards the reality that domestic violence often occurs within intimate relationships. Furthermore, while restraining orders and shelters provide temporary relief, they are not always effective long-term solutions. 


Domestic violence is not “an unfortunate faith for the few”, as Snyder used to think, rather, it is a systematic issue that occurs every day. The perpetrators of such violence are not strangers, but often partners, ex-partners, fathers, and relatives. They are leaders, co-workers, neighbors. They are people we know, often the closest to us, not monsters. 


Snyder challenges our perceptions of domestic violence and calls attention to the flawed approaches in addressing and understanding this phenomenon. Instead of asking ourselves, “Why did she not just leave?” we should ask ourselves, “Why is he violent?” or “How can we prevent violence from happening?” or “How can we protect victims of violence without taking their freedom from them?”

 

The book is structured into 3 main parts in a peculiar order: The End, The Beginning, and The Middle.


In the first part of the book, The End, the author dives into the story of a woman tragically murdered alongside her young children by her husband in Billings, Montana. The woman named Michelle Monson was only 23 years old when she was killed. By interviewing her family, the author understands the complex factors that perpetuate abusive relationships: financial issues, shame, guilt, willingness to protect her children at all costs, and lack of law enforcement. 


In the second part of the book, The Beginning, Rachel engages with abusers to understand what factors lead them to commit violence. Here, the author mentions examples of programs for violent men to address the root causes of their violent behaviors. In particular, she mentions one that has been implemented in San Bruno State, “Resolve To Stop The Violence” (RSVP), in which violent men engage in group discussions about the violence they have committed. Throughout these discussions, participants can understand the factors behind their violent actions and be aware of the consequential damage to their partner.

 

These factors are encapsulated by the term “toxic masculinity” which refers to behaviors such as suppressing emotions, maintaining an appearance of hardness, and viewing violence as an indicator of power, often associated with "tough-guy" behavior. Thus, at the core of men’s violent behavior, there is a fear of losing control, in which violence is perceived as the only solution to maintain their position of power.  


In the last part of the book, The Middle, the author highlights how current programs and services that should support and protect victims of violence are short-term and inefficient. These programs fall short in safeguarding women as they lack preventive measures against violence, suffer from inadequate funding for services, and face challenges in coordinating actions among different service providers. Additionally, there is a huge deficit in the training received by those involved in these services. In contrast, the programs made for abusers intervene only (if they do at all) after the violence has occurred.


I read Snyder’s book last year in October after moving to Barcelona. Just a month later, in Italy (the country I come from), thousands of people were on the streets to protest and claim their outrage against the murder of 22-year-old Giulia Cecchetin. A biomedical engineering student, she was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend after she disappeared on 11 November. 


This murder is not a standalone incident but part of a series of femicides — murders of women or girls because of their gender. Indeed, in Italy, 118 women were killed in 2023 alone, 96 of them were killed by partners, ex-partners, or close relatives. But Italy is not an exception here. In the EU and worldwide, at least at one point in their lives, one in three women have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. In the EU, at least two women per week are killed by an intimate partner or family member. Moreover, one in three women both in the EU and globally have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.


These statistics confront us with the harsh reality that domestic violence and violence against women are not private matters but widespread systemic societal problems. The stories of violence that we read every day in the news, and that we hear from our partners, friends and family, reveal that domestic violence is a worldwide issue that we fail to understand and thus cannot tackle. In other words, we are letting it happen again and again, by failing to grasp the roots of this crucial issue. 


One of the root causes of domestic violence is a worldwide social and cultural phenomenon: patriarchy. According to the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, patriarchy “can be conceptualized as a system or systems producing and reproducing gendered and intersectional inequalities, and men's power and women's subordination”. Throughout emotionally and physically abusive behaviors, men maintain power and control over their partners in the private and public spheres. 


We usually only hear about specific sexual and physical violence events when talking about domestic violence. Think about men raping, harassing, hitting, and killing women or, as Snyder calls it, The End of the story. But in the stages leading up to violence, there are many more subtle abusive behaviors. Examples of these abusive behaviors are well-explained in the so-called “power and control wheel”. For instance, one of the abusive behaviors is “using isolation”. This is when a man controls what his partner does, who they talk to, what they read, and where they go. They limit them outside the involvement and they use jealousy to justify their actions. 


 

“Is there something I can do?”


Addressing domestic violence requires challenging patriarchy, engaging men in discussions about gender issues, and normalizing conversations about this phenomenon. As highlighted by Snyder’s book, domestic violence is a systematic issue that requires collective action. To truly combat domestic violence, we must change this patriarchal and unjust system. By understanding the root causes of violence and developing preventive and efficient protection measures that can still prioritize women’s autonomy, we can dismantle the structures that legitimize such violence. 


In this fight, men must be active in this dialogue, be aware of this huge phenomenon, and be our allies, by challenging toxic masculinity while advocating for a better world in which gender violence is no longer tolerated. For instance, men should challenge sexist attitudes and behaviors, both in themselves and in their social circles. They should actively listen to women’s experiences without judgment while validating their feelings and experiences. 


The first step to change the system is to normalize discussions about domestic violence in both the private and public spheres. Providing education and raising awareness about domestic violence through schools, workplaces, and media platforms can help break the silence surrounding the issue. Encouraging an open dialogue about domestic violence within families and social circles can help reduce stigma and create supportive environments for survivors to share their experiences. 

Engaging communities in conversations about domestic violence through events and campaigns can foster solidarity and thus, collective action. This is crucial in empowering social movements and driving legislative and societal change. 


Together, we can make this world a safer and more just place. 

  


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