It could be said that the US faces an epidemic of violence against women, but that would probably understate the case. We simply live in a culture of it. Take a look at statistics related to domestic violence. Actually, don’t. Statistics are just numbers. Take a look at some stories instead. And while you’re in that space, recognize the extreme difficulty we face in improving this situation. Even entering the world of intimate partner violence can be depressing and discouraging. With her latest book, journalist Rachel Louise Snyder provides a valuable tool for understanding domestic violence and for thinking about a way forward. In its mix of storytelling, cultural analysis, and skilled reporting, No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us is an essential part of the ongoing conversation.

Snyder builds much of her book on narrative, often researched like a journalist but told like a novelist (and she has written a novel, the 2014 bookWhat We’ve Lost Is Nothing). No Visible Bruises opens with the story of Michelle Mosure, who, along with her children, was killed by her husband. By developing a specific story, Snyder can reveal some of the hidden challenges: of life in this situation, of trying to escape, of trying to intervene legally.

Mosure’s tale is devastating, which makes every insight it reveals carry more than just abstract weight.
The fact that she never quite manages to leave, points to one of the guiding issues of the book. Snyder writes, “Why victims stay isn’t the question we need to be asking. Rather, I think a better question is: how do we protect this person?” We can answer that “why” with some predictability: in order to stay alive. But how to keep a victim of domestic violence alive, particularly but not only during their time of leaving, becomes a much harder issue. For Snyder, answering that question, even in part, involves both rebutting some myths about domestic violence and finding small, simple steps to implement.

The myths are many, but Snyder wisely spends less time addressing popular misunderstandings and more time simply presenting truths. By bringing in a wealth of related topics, she examines how simple solutions (“Tougher laws!” “Just leave!” “Better enforcement!”) won’t work. Domestic violence connects to issues like poverty and homelessness, and the legal aspects alone have grown into their own jungle. Women in their own homes are perpetually at risk in our country, and the connecting web has many fibers.

Before it all seems too bleak, Snyder manages to find some light. People in a variety of fields are finding ways forward. We can empower, we can reduce recidivism, we can intervene earlier. One noteworthy effort involves connecting all relevant parties to share knowledge. “The systemic gaps, across courts, bureaucracies, state lines, are epic,” Snyder writes. Simply getting more information to more people would help. So would changing how we handle programs for the abusers, or how we think about our prison system. Or the way our shelters work.

With its harrowing stories and lack of easy answers, No Visible Bruisesis a demanding read, even though Snyder’s prose and pacing carry it well. For many readers – and not only those new to these topics – the book will bring vital information and at least some hope. Our continuing culture of violence in general and of domestic violence in particular creates some grim situations, but advancement remains possible, first through knowledge and then through effective change. Snyder’s look at these matters should become an important part of that process.

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