See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence
Again, we have a book that addresses the crisis of domestic violence. Jess Hill has provided a well-written and articulate investigation into the seemingly complex issue of men being violent towards women and children; and in some cases, violent women. While the focus is on Australia, this book has utility in any of the liberal democracies and beyond as we need to be clear; domestic violence is increasing and harming the basic structure of our communities.
The fact that we are still reading books like See What You Made Me Do underscores a crisis that shows little sign of passing, and that we have still a long way to go. This said, the beauty of this book is that it provides more than a glimmer of hope; it provides examples of where countries have chosen to address their domestic violence. Such a choice to confront such issues of domestic violence is an important distinction that Hill makes in an engaging, yet dark, way that is shockingly gripping.
Another feature of this book that should see it used in schools for students at an early age is that it sets out the initial mechanisms of coercive control. Young girls and boys need to be aware of the signs and the underlying cause in which men feel that they have the right or are entitled to control and hurt women. If we truly wish for a world where one half of the population does not live in fear, in some form or another, of their intimate partner; if we want meaningful shifts in attitude towards patriarchy, entitlement and male “shame”, See What You Made Me Do leads the way through a sound critical analysis of such ideas and its foundations.
Domestic violence is a disease (but not excused as such) that is the consequence of attitudes of patriarchy and misogyny that concerns social structures and the idea of male superiority over women. While Hill openly states that both men and women can be violent, she also asserts that women are more likely to die as a result of violence that can start with coercive control. On this point, Hill makes the astute observation that often women who kill their intimate partners, do so after sometimes decades of abuse only to become criminalised after finally putting a stop to domestic violence.
Hill provide some moving stories of women and children who live or have lived in the “underground” of coercive control and in some instances, unspeakable violence. But these women and children do speak and, in their courage expose a crisis of domestic violence, flaws in the criminal justice system, outdated thinking within the support agencies and the failure of local police to fully understand coercive control and the, sometimes-fatal, outcomes of violent men. Hill interrogates such violence, not from a need to entertain or shock (although sometimes shock is needed to shake people out of their apathy), but from a deep sense of obligation.
When quoting a conversation with a family violence helpline worker, Hill cuts straight to the heart of the narrative and sentiment that many feel when a woman says that they are ready to leave a violent intimate partner, “’You must get so frustrated when you think a woman’s ready to leave and then decides to go back’ I say”.
“No” replies one phone counsellor pointedly. “I’m frustrated that even though he promised to stop, he chose to abuse her again”. See What You Made Me Do calls out for all of us to rethink the structures that enable coercive control and Hill provides some initiatives that are being applied today that have seen a major decrease in domestic violence.
Staffed mostly by women, Argentina has established stations that have been designed to be a one-stop shop for women looking to leave an abusive relationship. These police officers do not simply wait for women to approach these purpose-built stations, they go out and look for women and educate and inform at-risk women that they are there to support them. Scotland, leading the way in the UK, introduced new coercive control laws in April 2019, that are both punitive but backed-up with nation-wide education programs. The main aim of such an approach is to “embed long-term cultural change”.
While these examples are laying down a challenge to other countries to finally reshape the way domestic abuse is dealt with, it is the chapter on the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Islanders that provides examples of incredible survival. “It took just sixty years to break 65,000 years of traditional child rearing and wreak havoc on future generations of parenting”. Reeling from the generations of colonisation and abusive behaviour from men, Indigenous Australian women are speaking out and taking matters into their own hands. And they are doing this through drawing on 65,000 years of customs with astonishing success. In such examples Hill shows that non-indigenous Australia need not look to Argentina or Scotland for inspiration (although these examples stand out), but to one of the longest running set of laws alive today.
Some Aboriginal communities have made a choice that they will not tolerate domestic violence any longer and in so doing show that path forward. The issue of choice comes through clearly in Hill’s work. The system that allows for domestic violence to thrive is not broken; it has been designed this way. Hill states, “Making women’s groups feel poor is central to the political strategy of people determined to maintain the status quo”.
While politicians chose to spend money on weapons and off-shore detention centres, or invest in a criminal justice system that shows a recidivism rate of just over 43%, surely it is time to look at how better to address the issues closer to home and affecting a large section of the population of Australia? Through justice reinvestment and social crime prevention surely Australia can help women and children feel safe and free from coercive control and violence.