Extraordinary new book dismantles the myths around domestic violence
Between 2000 and 2006, 3,200 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat. During that same period, in the United States, more than three times as many women died at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends.
In her extraordinary new book, “No Visible Bruises,” Rachel Louise Snyder reports on what the World Health Organization has called “a global health problem of epidemic proportions.”
In the United States alone, more than half of all murdered women are killed by a current or former partner – 50 women every month.
Domestic violence cuts across lines of class, race and religion; it is the leading cause of maternal mortality in cities including New York and Chicago, and the second leading cause of death for black women nationwide.
A United Nations report in 2018 put it starkly: The most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.
Domestic violence lurked in the background of every piece Snyder reported, as an investigative journalist for public radio, from Cambodia to Honduras. “An unfortunate fate for the unlucky few,” she used to think, “a matter of bad choices and cruel environments. A woman hard-wired to be hurt. A man hard-wired to hurt.”
Grievous, common errors. This book, winner of the prestigious J. Anthony Lukas Work-InProgress Award, takes apart the myths that surround domestic violence, many of which Snyder herself once believed: Restraining orders and shelters are always effective responses. Abusers never change. Visible signs of violence point to the greatest threat.
Far from being a private or isolated act, domestic violence – or “intimate partner terrorism,” as Snyder prefers, arguing it more accurately describes the psychological dynamics – has links with mass shootings and is a direct cause of homelessness for more than half of homeless women.
She powerfully dismantles the question of why women seem to stay in violent relationships: “We mistake what we see from the outside as her choosing to stay with an abuser, when in fact it’s we who don’t recognize what a victim who is slowly and carefully leaving actually looks like.”
Like Michelle Monson Mosure. At the heart of “No Visible Bruises” is the story of the 2001 murder of Mosure, a Montana woman, and her two children by her husband, Rocky Mosure, who then turned the gun on himself. Michelle was barely a teenager when she met Rocky. He was older and volatile; he began to control how she dressed and where she went. He began to beat her in front of their children.
And then there was the rattlesnake. Rocky supposedly kept one in a cage in the living room. He threated to slip it into her bed while she slept, or drop it in with her while she showered.
In secret, Michelle took classes and planned an escape. She ran away only to return, filed charges only to recant – behavior that might look weak or mystifying, but Snyder reveals how carefully she was trying to assess the risks to her and her children. She was trying to placate Rocky until she felt safe enough to make a move. She was relying on the tools that had kept her alive.
We meet others making these terrifying calculations. Snyder travels to shelters and along with the police. She encounters so many women, so many hollow-eyed children. There’s an immediacy in these scenes, the raw, ragged tension of people exhausted by fear, that recalls Donna Ferrato’s portraits of domestic violence in “Living With the Enemy.” I read Snyder’s book as if possessed, stopping for nothing, feeling the pulse beat in my brain.
What did I miss? What could I have done? Michelle and Rocky’s parents churn over these questions obsessively. Snyder wants us to share in them, make them our own.
There is so much that can be done; for all the suffering in the book, it is also full of actionable changes.
Domestic violence initiatives, after all, are fairly new in this country; until the 1990s, we had more animal shelters than women’s shelters.
Snyder takes us through the history – how the O.J. Simpson trial and the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, in 1994, transformed the understanding of domestic violence – and up to the series of steps that can save lives today.
No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us By Rachel Louise Snyder; Bloomsbury; 307 pages; $28