Thursday, 04 July 2019

Book Review: See What You Made Me Do

Written by Matt Pulford

Last year the 15th Assembly supported a landmark Statement on Domestic and Family Violence

In the Statement, Assembly members said it was important to, among other things, "educate our members about the reality of the situation and how they can respond to point people to support, resources and care."

Part of that education would be amply fulfilled if every UCA member read Australian journalist Jess Hill's gut-wrenching first book, See What You Made Me Do.

Hill spent four years collecting stories from the breadth of Australia's broken family justice and law enforcement systems.

Be warned. These stories - all de-identified for the safety of those who survived - make for extremely challenging reading. 

They plumb the depths of misery and terror of the women and children who suffered abuse, and explore the mindset of the men who abused them. Yes, the overwhelming amount of abuse is committed by men.

The statistics behind Australia's domestic abuse epidemic are staggering, wiith one in four Australian women affected. (Domestic abuse is Hill's preferred term. She explains why in the book) 

Abusers fit one of two patterns - coercive controllers or insecure reactors - the former exercising dangerous levels of menace and mind-games to scare their spouse into submission with techniques akin to those for 'breaking' prisoners of war.

Hill explains the dangerous cocktail of men's shame and humiliated fury at perceptions of lost power, and lays bare the utter inadequacy of community, law enforcement and government responses to the violent outcomes of this fury.

She also calls out shameful cultures of victim blaming. 

The biggest hole in the safety net Hill finds is the emergency refuge sector, and governments' chronic underinvestment in affordable housing and crisis accommodation, campaigns that would resonate with many UCA members and church agencies.

The struggles of the lived experience of professionals working in the community sector fill every page of what is ultimately a hopeful book.

In See What You Made Me Do, Hill lays out a clear challenge to Australians who want to do something about this national emergency, citing case studies at home and abroad where domestic violence is being curtailed by community-centred initiatives.

One example from South America is police stations for women and children. Their purpose is to protect victims of crime, but they also aim to empower women and prevent violence.

The book also reinforces the crucial importance for prevention campaigns to focus on teaching men about respectful relationships.

As someone only peripherally aware of the reality of domestic abuse, I found reading this book a revelation - much like reading Mick Dodson and Sir Ronald Wilson's Bringing Them Home Report which brought mainstream attention to the Stolen Generations for the first time.

I hope many more Australians read this book, and that they are moved to respond by the powerful stories Jess Hill has presented.

See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse by Jess Hill is published by Black Inc. Books for $32.99 or $14.99 as an eBook.