71 pages 2 hours read

Rachel Louise Snyder

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us (2019) was written by Rachel Louise Snyder, an associate professor of creative writing and journalism at American University. A world traveler, longtime contributor to magazines and podcasts, and a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, Snyder has won awards for both her fiction and nonfiction works, which include Fugitive Denim and What We’ve Lost is Nothing. No Visible Bruises, published by Bloomsbury Publishing, won the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from the Columbia School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. The New York Times Book Review named No Visible Bruises one of the 10 best books of 2019.

No Visible Bruises belongs to the genre of creative nonfiction, which uses the conventions of fiction to tell a true story in narrative form. Creative fiction often interweaves the author’s personal experiences and opinions with the subject matter while also including the stories and opinions of others with a personal investment in the subject. Creative nonfiction tends to avoid overly complicated or technical terms and incorporates factual material in a way that does not interrupt the reader’s engagement with the narrative. In contrast, a strictly nonfiction work, such as an academic treatise, positions the author as an expert voice whose opinions and emotions remain unknown to the reader. Furthermore, strict nonfiction presents facts in a logical, linear way that builds towards the author’s ultimate objective, such as proving a hypothesis.

This summary refers to the Bloomsbury Publishing Kindle Edition of No Visible Bruises.


No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us is the result of journalist and author Rachel Louise Snyder’s decade of research into the causes and effects of domestic violence in the United States. Combining personal accounts from abusers and victims with secondhand accounts from family members, case workers, law enforcement officials, and other experts, No Visible Bruises paints a portrait of a nation suffering from an insidious and ignored disease. Snyder’s work places domestic violence in its socioeconomic context and conveys the staggering costs of intimate partner abuse. While the focus of the book is the US, Snyder makes it clear that domestic violence is a global health crisis, with other countries faring just as poorly, if not worse.

No Visible Bruises comprises three parts. The first part, which includes the first 10 chapters, attempts to answer the question of why abused women stay in abusive relationships; it begins with the story of Michelle Mosure, a Montana woman whose husband Rocky killed both her and her children. Snyder investigates Mosure’s childhood, her family life, and the beginnings of her relationship with Rocky to understand the factors that compelled Michelle to stay. Her story illuminates barriers that range from the cultural narrative that insists that children are better off with two parents, to the lack of assistance from law enforcement, to financial problems, to shame and stigma. Critical to Part 1 is Snyder’s argument that women who stay in abusive relationships do not do so because they are stupid or weak; rather, they stay because they understand that one wrong move will very likely result in death.

Part 2, which includes the next nine chapters, is Snyder’s attempt to understand the abusers themselves and discover what leads them to violence. Several factors, both internal and external, are at play: the toxic masculinity that glorifies violence while teaching boys to suppress their emotions; the prevalence of and easy access to guns; religious heritage that reinforces a patriarchal social structure; narcissism and repressed shame; drug and alcohol abuse; and social pressure to provide. Snyder follows the stories of several abusers to see whether intervention works and rehabilitation is truly possible.

The third and final part of the book, the last seven chapters, looks at the programs and people combating domestic violence, finding that most services for abused women are short-term and flawed, while most services aimed at men intervene after abuse has already occurred. While the people working to combat domestic violence vary in background, motivation, and approach, in virtually all cases collaboration and communication between men and women (and the organizations they represent) are critical components of progress.

In the Author’s Note, Snyder reveals a personal connection to domestic violence: A few weeks before her death, Snyder’s stepmother revealed that she had grown up in an abusive home and had been the victim of an abusive partner in her first marriage. This revelation lends further credence to Snyder’s point that domestic abuse occurs across social, ethnic, and economic lines, and that shame keeps women from telling their stories. In the Afterword, Snyder tells of the murder-suicide in the home of her friend’s brother and explains how this violence affected her friend, the couple’s children, and the community. 

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