Review by Emily Fuller
Australia’s climate of domestic abuse is not exactly clandestine in our reality today. There is a high chance you have experienced abuse at the hands of a perpetrator either physically, sexually or emotionally, or you know someone who has. For myself, I have witnessed the nightmarish nature of violent abuse in my home against my own mother – abuse that transcends the initial act itself and bleeds out despair for years to come. Domestic violence is a crucial human rights issue that has left me feeling furiously passionate in cultivating awareness and education in the matter. It has truly evoked me to peel myself open with transparency in discussing my own experiences of domestic violence without shame, blame or plain fear.
It is quite difficult to find reliable scholarship that shifts beyond the exhausted scope of “why does he do it?” I have encountered countless bodies of work looking at domestic violence through transfixed and narrow lenses, predominantly using the role of patriarchy or mental illness as justifications why men feel like it is acceptable to violate the women in their life. This is where Jess Hill’s latest book left me feeling immense gratitude and a sense of awakening in examining Australia’s epidemic of violence against women. Essentially, See What You Made Me Do sets out to dismantle the victim-blaming of women who are abused and also challenges the binary between “good” and “bad” men in which we have been conditioned into believing profusely. This investigative work extends beyond the accepted discourse that “violence against women is wrong”. Instead, it explores the deeper intricacies that we have been too fearful to uproot and scrutinize: such as the psychology of deep seated shame, humiliated fury and entitlement in the psyche of the perpetrators, the socio-cultural contexts now and throughout history (particularly paying attention to indigenous contexts).
Something I find so problematic in examining the nature of domestic violence in our culture is the practice of imposing shame and blame upon the victim of abuse. You will often hear people throw around claims like “what did she expect, she chose to stay”. It’s the age-old approach in which we don’t have to actually accept any accountability for combating this serious epidemic of domestic abuse. Jess Hill not only explores the triggers and patterns of perpetrators, but also shines a light on the circumstances of victimhood in homes of domestic violence. Rather than posing the question of “why does she stay”, Hill unpacks the realities of living with abuse particularly exploring the entanglement of love, intimacy and power with relationships. This is what genuinely struck me – in looking at how coercive control and ideals of love can often motivate people to abuse their partners.
I cannot commend the comprehensiveness of Jess Hill’s research, but what truly moved me was her emotional sensitivity in capturing the raw devastation of victims who have suffered from domestic abuse. She ventures far beyond the facts and figures to give us a visceral sense of the terror; she tells stories of abuse with a sense of gentleness, in story after story she recreates the stale atmospheres of dread. She says:
A victim’s most frightening experiences may never be recorded by police or understood by a judge. That’s because domestic abuse is a terrifying language that develops slowly and is spoken only by the people involved. Victims may feel breathless from a sideways look, a sarcastic tone, or a stony silence, because these are the signals to which they have become hyper-attuned… After all, it’s not a crime to demand that your girlfriend no longer see her family. It’s not a crime to tell her what to wear, how to clean the house and what she’s allowed to buy at the supermarket.
I could feel my heart in my throat as I poured over these accounts. This was not just a book in which I sympathised for these victims of abuse. I felt it. Hill provides a lens for you to examine the nature of your own relationships, suddenly making you conscious of just how subtle the instances of abuse can be – maybe even in your own life. Yes, See What You Made Me Do is another urgent call for action in combating the epidemic of domestic abuse. However, it is a call for action unlike anything I have ever encountered – one of incredible accessibility, depth of research, and poignancy in illuminating the innate terror that is felt by victims in households across Australia. I desperately hope that this is a work to be widely read as well as acted upon in addressing the expanding danger of domestic abuse.