No Visible Bruises, What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us, by Rachel Louise Snyder
In America today, 54% of mass shootings involve domestic violence; intimate partners use guns to kill 50 women a month. Because of guns, the United States is the most dangerous industrialized country for women. Journalist Rachel Louise Snyder’s exhaustive research reveals sobering truths about why women face so much risk from domestic violence. Snyder includes accounts from jailed batterers, as well. Prescient and vital, this essential work reveals why home can be the most dangerous place. Recommended for women who live with abuse, advocates, lawmakers and law enforcement officers.
- Long-held assumptions about domestic violence help perpetuate the crisis of abuse.
- Victims stay with abusers because it is almost always more dangerous to leave.
- The Danger Assessment tool can help prevent domestic violence homicides.
- Guns are a significant factor in the rates of domestic abuse homicides in the United States.
- Anti-domestic violence programs teach batterers how their violence affects their victims.
- Better communication among agencies and law enforcement reduces fatal mistakes.
- Crisis centers must expand options for battered women and their children.
- Evidence-based prosecution can detain abusers while victims seek help.
No Visible Bruises Book Summary
Long-held assumptions about domestic violence help perpetuate the crisis of abuse.
America does not consider domestic violence an urgent crisis, even though intimate partners murder 50 women a month. And, murder is the leading cause of death among young African-American women. Certain incorrect assumptions surround the issue of domestic violence, including blaming the victim: The girl made bad choices – or, if she had reason to fear her partner, she should simply have left. People still believe that what happens in the home is nobody’s business, and that in domestic disputes women sustain only negligible injuries.
Law enforcement personnel often fail to take domestic violence seriously, especially when they are called to the same home multiple times, even though a domestic violence response call can be dangerous for the responding officers. Perceiving it as a private matter that shouldn’t distract the police, society often deems domestic violence a “nuisance.” Unlike any other crime, it doesn’t happen randomly in unexpected places. It happens mostly where couples live.
“Leaving is never an event; it’s a process.”
For generations around the globe, women were men’s property, to do with as they wished. Today, male abusers claim to love the women they batter. And, women believe their children need a father, even a bad one. The court system puts victims on the defensive and charges perpetrators with only minor offenses.
“When a man’s belief system is challenged, he goes into fatal peril and that is the moment where violence is a choice.”
The women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s tried to change these assumptions and unfair provisions. Publicity from the O.J. Simpson trial helped win passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Yet, programs and shelters for battered women suffer chronic underfunding.
Victims stay with abusers because it is almost always more dangerous to leave.
Rocky Mosure displayed the hallmarks of a batterer for years before he murdered his wife, Michelle. He abused drugs after their children were born. He isolated his wife from her family and beat her in front of their kids. When she tried to leave, he stalked and threatened her. She filed a restraining order, but Rocky’s parents bailed him out. Living in Montana, he had no difficulty getting a weapon. Michelle gave up hope that the law could protect her. She recanted her story because she feared for her life, and she sought to placate Rocky to buy time to escape. But within weeks, he fatally shot her and their children and committed suicide.
A “fatality review team” assessed the Mosure case. They acknowledged their “failure to protect.” They concluded that better communication among advocates and law enforcement would reduce violence. If their recommendations had been in effect as public policy, the court would have kept Rocky in jail while advocates helped Michelle set up emergency plans and find shelter. They would have warned her when his release was due and enforced a no-contact order. An advocate would have tested Michelle with the Danger Assessment tool to determine her level of risk.
The Danger Assessment tool can help prevent domestic violence homicides.
The Danger Assessment tool is the “single most important tool” developed to help advocates identify women who are at risk of abuse. Creator Jacquelyn Campbell was a public health nurse who discovered flaws in law enforcement’s reporting and tracking of domestic abuse cases. The Danger Assessment tool helps women understand their situations in context. Crisis workers across the United States use it to identify women quickly who might not know they are in danger and to provide them with resources.
“The Danger Assessment has changed the course of how we understand and treat intimate partner violence in America and beyond.”
Campbell’s research isolated prior domestic abuse incidents as the biggest indicator of future abuse. The danger spikes in the three months after a battered partner leaves, then it drops significantly. Time apart lets intimate partners adjust to ending their relationship. Campbell identified 22 high-risk factors that predict potential homicide, including substance abuse, forced sex, stalking, poverty, unemployment, threats to kill, isolation from friends and family, and strangulation. Almost 60% of homicides show a history of strangulation, because “once the hands are on the neck, the very next step is homicide.” Laws that made strangulation a felony in 45 states have contributed to a drop in homicide rates.
Guns are a significant factor in the rates of domestic abuse homicides in the United States.
Gun advocates argue that firearms make women safer because a woman who has a gun can defend herself. David Adams, leader of an anti-domestic violence organization, interviewed 14 killers and discussed their statements in his testimony to the congressional Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Homicide risk increases eightfold when a gun is present, and the person holding the gun has the power. However, 11 of the killers said they would not have murdered their victims if a gun hadn’t been available. Yet, few laws allow police officers to remove guns from men with a history of stalking or domestic violence. Federal law does not.
“A gun is a passive instrument; it does what it’s told to do by a human. And humans make mistakes.”
Access to guns is one of the top three indicators for potential homicide in domestic abuse. Calls involving domestic violence account for 14% of police fatalities on duty. A third of US women have guns in their homes, but fewer than 20% claim that it makes them feel safer. More than half support stronger gun laws. Society teaches women not to use violence. Men must learn nonviolence, too. Domestic violence predicts mass shootings more than half the time, but an FBI study on active shooters neglected to link mass shootings with domestic violence.
Anti-domestic violence programs teach batterers how their violence affects their victims.
The Manalive program at San Bruno jail in San Francisco teaches men to be accountable for their violence. Hamish Sinclair founded the program in 1980, but Manalive became particularly relevant after passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. California law mandated that violent men must take the program or go to jail.
Sunny Schwartz, a prison guard, made Manalive one pillar in the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) at San Bruno. The other pillar is restorative justice, where the men hear firsthand accounts from female victims of domestic abuse. The program teaches the men to call their victims by their names and to see them as human beings.
“Restorative justice insists that the perpetrator acknowledge the pain and suffering he has caused and ‘restore’ his victims and community as much as possible.”
Twenty years after its inception, RSVP has lowered recidivism rates. But few states have adopted it. Programs for survivors take precedence over programs for abusers, even though reducing male violence benefits victims.
Better communication among agencies and law enforcement reduces fatal mistakes.
Dorothy Giunta-Cotter should not have been a victim of William Cotter, her husband. Her murder was “instantly preventable,” according to social services worker Kelly Dunne, who helped Dorothy obtain a restraining order against her husband a few weeks before her death. She refused the only option available to battered women and their children: a shelter. She wanted to remain at home, even though her husband was dangerous.
“Shelter doesn’t simply mean a safe place to sleep; it means walking entirely out of your life, having your children walk entirely out of their lives. It means disappearing from view.”
Within days after the restraining order was issued, William broke it and tried to kidnap her at gunpoint. Then, he managed to obtain release on bail. The judge did not have Dorothy’s affidavit swearing to years of violence. He did not speak to Dunne. Upon his release, William returned to the family home and held his wife hostage. Police surrounded the house, but he killed Dorothy and himself.
Determining a woman’s level of risk and developing alternatives to shelters became Dunne’s project. The biggest communication barrier was between the crisis center and the police. Gender differences contributed to a lack of trust. Civil courts try domestic cases, and the justice system doesn’t treat domestic violence incidents as crimes in the traditional sense. Law enforcement regards domestic violence as mostly vexatious.
“It’s in the cracks that murders happen.”
Dunne helped create an abuse response team with representatives from every department – including the emergency room, the courts, the prisons, the police and advocacy organizations. The crisis center became the communications center, and the representatives met monthly to review high-risk cases.
Crisis centers must expand options for battered women and their children.
Dorothy Giunta-Cotter refused to go into a shelter because she didn’t understand why she should disrupt her children’s lives when her husband was the problem. Moving to a shelter means victims must leave their lives behind. They are forced to choose between staying at home with their abuser or hiding from him in a shelter, which means disrupting their children’s education, and giving up their jobs and their daily routines, like caring for elderly parents.
“It’s not women who need to learn violence; it’s men who need to learn nonviolence.”
The criminal justice system uses the excuse that if women refuse shelter, they are “not afraid enough” to need help. No other crime removes civil liberties from the victim. The justice system allows landlords to evict families because domestic violence is a nuisance, then refuses women and children new housing because they live in a shelter. All too often, staying with the abuser seems like a battered woman’s only option.
Transitional housing and financial aid may be solutions. Peg Hacskaylo founded the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) in Washington, DC. In 2006, DC offered 48 shelter beds to women and children, even though the police received more than 31,000 domestic violence calls a year. In 2010, DASH unveiled Cornerstone, a complex with 43 studio and one-bedroom apartments. Hacskaylo also negotiates with landlords to secure “scattered site” affordable housing. Hacskaylo started the Survivor Resilience Fund (SRF) because victims with access to an income have a greater ability to secure safe housing and justice. By empowering battered women with resources, programs such as DASH and SRF show abusers that the community will not tolerate their behavior.
Evidence-based prosecution can detain abusers while victims seek help.
In an ideal world, community programs that prevent violence would be the norm. Unfortunately, domestic violence remains classified only as a misdemeanor in many jurisdictions. Dunne’s High Risk Team relies on Massachusetts bail statute 58A, which assesses how dangerous an abuser is. It can detain a plaintiff for 180 days without bail. Preventive detention keeps victims at home and out of shelters and gives them time to reorganize their lives.
“The United States is the most dangerous developed country in the world for women when it comes to gun violence.”
Evidence-based prosecution is an alternative to preventive detention and relies on evidence such as photos, 911 tapes, witness testimonies and prior records. A prosecutor can convict an abuser without victims taking the stand. But in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that defendants have the constitutional right to face their victims (Crawford v. Washington), and it rejected victim statements from uncooperative witnesses.
Between 2010 and 2016, US gun manufacturers produced 10.9 million guns. The states with the highest number of guns per capita are the states with the highest number of domestic homicides: South Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, Alaska, Arkansas, Montana and Missouri. With regard to gun violence, the United States is the most dangerous place in the industrialized world for women. Communicating more effectively between social service agencies and law enforcement and disrupting the cycle of violence in the misdemeanor phase could change this narrative and save lives.
About the Author
Rachel Louise Snyder is a journalist and associate professor in creative writing and journalism at the American University in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Salon, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune and The New Republic.