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#WhatIsKirstenReading: See What You Made Me Do – Jess Hill

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During my PhD, I regularly shared a Facebook post, tagged #WhatIsKirstenReading, and described whatever it was that I just completed. I haven’t done one for ages. The time and energy available for reading has reduced, and I have missed the opportunity to settle in with a good book. After being reluctant to do so, I have finally tried an audiobook. While I miss that sense of snuggling up to a book on the lounge, it allowed me to fit “reading” in while doing tasks which didn’t already require the language part of my brain. 

While there are limits on the range of books available in audiobook format, I was delighted to see that Jess Hill’s See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse was on the list. Published midway through 2019, I had heard mention of the book previously and was keen to see what it held. Given that the topic of domestic and family abuse is not unknown to me, I wondered whether there would be anything new in the book for me. I had a degree of anxiety on beginning my time with the book, concerned that it would simply be a traumatising retelling of horrors.

Yes, there were descriptions of abuse, violence, sexual assault, and murder. Hill is an investigative journalist, and these were described in a journalistic manner. These were factual, with enough information to understand the event, but without any gruesome glee focussing on the awfulness of the event simply for the horror of it. Some events, like the murder of Rosie Battie’s son Luke in 2014, were familiar to me. Other events were recollections from people Hill interviewed specifically for the book, previously unreported in the media. They served the important role of introducing the chapters and making it clear why we need to talk about this problem, rather than being some sort of gory entertainment. 

What surprised me about Hill’s book was the depth and breadth of her exploration, and her compassion for all the people involved, not only for those who have been victimised. She tackled the research for this book in a thoughtful way, going beyond the simple answers we often reach to for how to understand solve the problem. The sections on why perpetrators – predominantly men – abuse their partners – predominantly women – introduced me to an area of research and practice that I had not previously known. I was left with hope that there were solutions, and while these aren’t easy or simple, Hill provided case studies of how education, counselling, policing, and legislative interventions have made differences in communities which have stood up collectively and said enough is enough. 

Should you read this book? Yes. There isn’t an adult alive who is not impacted in some way by domestic abuse. We all are – to a degree – complicit in creating the social structures which have made it possible for domestic abuse to exist and to go unchallenged. Through her book, Hill asks us to reflect on our attitudes and behaviours and to be willing to change at a personal level, as well as to support large scale societal changes. Knowing how abuse happens, and what works to stop it, even prevent it from happening in the first instance, means that we can each contribute in a meaningful way to making the world more like the one we want to live in. 

Categories: Book reviews, Feminism

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