Hill, Jess. See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse. Black Inc. Books, 2019. RRP $32.99. 416pp. ISBN: 9781760641405
If the subject matter of this review brings up issues for you, please remember that help is available from 1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732 and Lifeline: 13 11 14
Jess Hill’s See What You Made Me Do is one of the most important books you will ever read. It’s a vital, thought-provoking and harrowing look at one of the biggest emergencies facing, not just Australia, but the whole world.
‘Domestic abuse is a national emergency: one in four Australian women has experienced violence from a man she was intimate with’ reads the blurb (Cover Material). Just let that sink in for a moment. One in four. When we think of romantic or intimate relationships we think of love, laughter, good times, special occasions, but for many people—not just women, not just heterosexual—this is not always the case.
Hill is an investigative journalist who has been writing about domestic violence for a large portion of her career, and her experience shows. Each chapter is backed up with carefully told case studies—none of them gratuitous—statistics, reports, interviews and information. It is comprehensive and it is important, and it is truly harrowing.
The best thing about this book is that it places the focus on the perpetrator. It challenges the idea behind the title’s ‘see what you made me do’: that the perpetrator has reason, that they can be excused for their behaviour, that the victim is partly or wholly to blame. Instead the blame is placed squarely where it should be—on those who perpetrate abuse.
Early on, Hill explains,
In this book, wherever possible, I have replaced the term ‘domestic violence’ with ‘domestic abuse’. I did this because in some of the worst abusive relationships, physical violence is rare, minor or barely present. (ix)
Many may be unaware that physical violence doesn’t cover the full spectrum of experiences that constitute abuse. Emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse; each is as dangerous as the last and often happen simultaneously. Emotional abuse and coercive control can be the most dangerous and damaging: physical bruises heal, emotional ones are much harder to see and treat. Hill explains how coercive control techniques that perpetrators use (knowingly or unknowingly) are the same ones that soldiers have used on prisoners of war. It’s torture, and terrorism. The results (PTSD, suicide, psychological damage) are the same. Consider that for a moment, before moving on.
Hill sets out her argument in a measured, factual but highly engaging way that covers every side of the argument. Refreshingly, there is no rant. There are no commanding, demanding imperatives that say what you must, what you ought, what you should do in the face of this national scourge. Instead she presents both sides, as seen in the chapter that addresses whether gender inequality is to blame for domestic abuse.
Even as gender inequality became the popular catchcry against domestic abuse, I knew in my bones that it alone could not explain men’s abuse of women. (135-136)
This statement alone shows why Hill is the perfect narrator for this book. She is relentless in her search for facts and meticulous in the detail she includes.
The journey that we go on in this book takes us from the individual, inside the mind of the perpetrator, to the unit of the relationship, then on to the wider society and communities in which these people exist. What we find is terrifying:
Speak to anyone who’s worked with survivors or perpetrators and they’ll tell you the same thing: domestic abuse almost always follows the same script. (14)
The police, the courts, social services are all aware of the warning signs, yet courts and the law repeatedly fail victims. What is missing are the right tools for change. These tools are not just financial or legal, they’re changes in individual attitudes to domestic abuse, support systems for perpetrators as well as victims, deeper knowledge of the issue, funding, and most of all, community support to engender change.
Hill calls for reform, not with the loud brash voice of someone looking to fulfil a personal ambition, but with a voice of warmth and urgency that asks for help for the many, many people still suffering from abuse today.
But ending domestic violence doesn’t just require money—it requires conviction and belief. Do we actually believe perpetrators can be stopped—not in generations to come, but right now? (341).
This book is vital and important and necessary. Hill is a voice of reason in a world where victim blaming is rife and acts of violence are listed underneath the sporting, career or social achievements of the perpetrator. It’s time to stop seeing domestic abuse as not our problem. In a world of social media, where people are constantly ‘seen’, victims and perpetrators are living among us, unseen, underground. They exist in ways that we do not know about because on the surface, they seem fine. We need to look beyond that, we need to make sure they’re seen, and we need to educate ourselves on the complexity of domestic abuse. This is our textbook.
See What You Made Me Do should be recommended reading, for police officers and judges, media and social workers, for doctors, nurses, teachers. But most of all for people: people of all ages and genders, people who have suffered, have witnessed another suffering or who might, in reading See What You Made Me Do, be able to prevent their own suffering or that of another.
Jen is a writer and journalist based in Perth. She lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland for ten years and has written for a number of UK newspapers and magazines including The List, The Guardian and The Scotsman. Previously Arts and Events Editor of Scoop Events, she now works in the marketing team at Fremantle Press.