Book Review: See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill

Hill’s must-read book combines detailed research, candid testimonies and an incisive analysis of how abuse perpetrators and victims think.
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Author Jess Hill. Image courtesy of Black Inc.

With four years’ research into Australia’s domestic abuse crisis, investigative journalist Jess Hill’s first book, See What You Made Me Do, is a must-read for every Australian who has ever had an opinion on domestic abuse and its prevalence in this country. Through an incisive balance of chilling personal accounts backed by immense sociological and forensic context, Hill has delivered a critical and long overdue response to a question society too often asks when attempting to understand domestic abuse, most of which is perpetrated by men against women: why didn’t she leave?

Challenging ingrained victim-blaming rhetoric, See What You Made Me Do reframes the language surrounding domestic abuse by instead asking, ‘Why does he abuse her?’. Hill puts the onus back onto perpetrators, and onto the deeply flawed judicial system that victims face if they choose to seek help. This approach will prompt many readers to realise that much of what they thought they knew about domestic abuse, in fact, forms the discourse perpetuating this crisis.

Beginning by first establishing what an abusive relationship looks like, and identifying recognised patterns of coercive control beyond physical abuse, Hill progressively debunks all the common myths relating to the psychology of both perpetrators and victims. Each chapter examines one specific component of domestic abuse and when placed together, they allow the reader to reach a nuanced comprehension of this national emergency.

The first five chapters are devoted to the mind of the perpetrator, and the influences which make domestic abuse an overwhelmingly gendered crime, such as entitlement, shame and patriarchy. This is an invaluable starting point for insight into how seemingly normal men can routinely abuse their partners and children. What’s more, as readers reach later chapters, it becomes clearer that awareness of the internal hypocrisies of perpetrators is central to understanding this very specific type of violence and manipulation – as well as understanding crucial flaws in preventative campaigns like ‘Real Men Don’t Hit Women’.

From chapter 6, the focus shifts into the heartbreaking impact that domestic abuse has on children – with the exception of chapter seven which focuses on when women are perpetrators. This is the point where the book becomes especially harrowing, as Hill shares the stories of multiple interviewees – some of whom are still children – who have been horribly let down by the family court system. While each story is deeply confronting, there is never a point where a detail feels gratuitous. Rather, these are candid testimonies that we must hear in order to repair a broken system.

Chapter 10 places a spotlight on the disproportionate rate of domestic abuse experienced by Aboriginal women. While domestic abuse ‘does not discriminate’, this chapter is imperative for understanding that it does not affect all women equally, and that women who face compounding oppressions such as racism, poverty and stigma have very different experiences compared to those who fit the ‘perfect victim’ image.

The final chapter concerns change. Although domestic abuse may seem like a pervasive and insoluble problem after reading the 10 previous chapters, Hill’s conclusion is surprisingly hopeful as she draw parallels with other formerly widespread social problems which have decreased through strong government initiatives – such as drink driving. Hill also draws attention to justice reinvestment programs which have achieved dramatic reductions in domestic abuse such as the unique community-centred program in Bourke, NSW. Above all, Hill leaves with a plea against inaction and vague policy. Domestic abuse is too important an issue, and approaches that rely on the victim to leave or that fail to consider the internal hypocrisies of perpetrators will not foster meaningful change.

5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★

See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill
Publisher: Black Inc.
Format: Paperback
Categories: Non-fiction | Australian
Pages: 416
Release Date: 24 June 2019
RRP: $32.99

Ellen Muller
About the Author
Ellen Muller is a Melbourne-based writer. Follow her on Instagram: @hello.ellenmuller
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