I’m adding this book to my list of nonfiction books I wish everyone would read. It addresses the many misconceptions about domestic violence, like:
People are killed by domestic violence all the time, and not just the abused partner, but their children, family members, and friends. Even mass shootings often have some root in domestic violence. Snyder’s book aims to lay out the facts about domestic violence — what it is and what it is not. And how much deadlier it is than we realize.
Much of what I read in this book I knew already, but this book did a lot to add clarity and understanding to a complex problem. By looking at patterns in relationship violence, Snyder shows how they escalate over time, and how we can tell, if we know what to look for, when domestic violence will turn into murder. She uses the analogy of how we research plane accidents to learn how to make travel safer. There are groups of people doing the same thing for domestic violence.
I spent a summer working in a domestic violence unit in a county prosecutor’s office, and I remember learning things there that surprised me, like the fact that violence often begins when the abused spouse is pregnant, and that violence often escalates when a woman tries to leave, calls the police, or files for a restraining order. I remember being frustrated by the number of women who recanted their statements or refused to come to court, though over the course of that summer I came to understand it better. But still, a part of me thought these women were too much in love with their partners to get out.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, why didn’t she leave, this book will help you understand the answer.
I also learned from this book that there are treatment programs out there for abusers. They involve months of intensive focus on why the abuser turns to violence and how to channel their emotions more positively. But it’s more than just anger management. These programs also focus on how the abuser views women and where these perceptions come from. Most abusers, for example, don’t call their partners by their name – they are bitch or whore or “my woman” – showing that they don’t see women as an individual, or an equal partner. It’s an important red flag for someone in a relationship, as are early controlling behaviors, like not wanting the partner to see friends or have their own income. Snyder also points out that “love at first sight” is also a common sign; these relationships have an intensity that can turn into abuse.
It’s a devastating book, but Snyder points to things that communities can do to prevent domestic violence and homicide. Her key points are first, use data and research to identify patterns, to better predict when serious violence will occur. And second, the courts and law enforcement need to work with social services and domestic violence advocates, because too often, everyone has only a portion of the information they need.
If this sounds like a difficult read, it is, but Snyder’s writing is accessible and engaging. She focuses her book on a specific family in Montana, and that really helps to establish the importance of the problem and to bring the reader in. She spends time interviewing both abusers and victims, so it doesn’t feel one-sided, and a lot of her time is spent observing the work of law enforcement, advocates, and social services. That makes this book a really unique and comprehensive look at domestic violence.
We all know someone who has been in a controlling or abusive relationship, so it’s really important that we have a better understanding of the risks. I can’t recommend this book enough.
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