Many women have a hard time admitting — even to themselves — that they're being abused by their husband or partner. Suzanne Dubus' first husband hit her, but still, she didn't initially identify herself as a victim of abuse.
"I attributed it to alcohol," Dubus says. "I knew that his father abused his mother. And I thought, 'Well, this is just poor learning, and I can help him with this.' "
But after Dubus' husband beat her so severely that he broke her eardrum, her thinking began to shift. She eventually left him. Years later, after the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, Dubus felt compelled to volunteer for victims of domestic abuse.
Now Dubus is the CEO the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, a domestic violence crisis center in Massachusetts. She and her colleagues have created a program designed to identify women who are in high-risk situations and provide them with resources to build new lives.
She joined Rachel Louise Snyder, author of the book No Visible Bruises, in a conversation about the often hidden psychological effects of abuse and how they keep women trapped.
Snyder notes that it's more important than ever to take the threat of domestic violence seriously.
"For years we said that three women a day were killed by their partners in America, and since 2017 that statistic is now four," Snyder says.
Snyder and Dubus agree on the need to focus resources on women during the time when they are most at risk.
"The first 90 days after a victim leaves [her partner] is the most dangerous time for them of any kind of violence," Snyder says. "Some of these protections ... that they established at the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center [are] not a sort of permanent state of being but a way to build systemic protections around a victim for a period of time to kind of ride [that] out."
On identifying risk factors in abusive relationships
Dubus: Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell from Johns Hopkins' School of Nursing had done this really interesting research study on femicide, and she identified 20 lethality factors that are in play as the violence is escalating. ...
Threats to kill [are] a really important risk factor. Strangulation — we know that in 50% of domestic violence cases, strangulation is used. Do they have access to a gun? Are they threatening to kill themselves? Is the behavior escalating? Is there extreme and constant jealousy? Those are some of those lethality factors. ...
We began to look at the cases that came through our doors in a different way and really identify those that would give us an opportunity to intervene in a way that we can hold offenders accountable. And we could really make sure that survivors were getting services. We know that when survivors are receiving services, they're much more likely to survive and live.
On why women often don't leave abusive relationships
Dubus: There are so many reasons that victims stay in violent and abusive relationships. Number one, domestic violence happens over a time period. It's not like someone goes out on a date and gets slapped on the first date. If that happened, they would never go back on the second date. But it happens over time: The emotional abuse, the insults, the slowly wearing away at a woman's soul and a sense of who she is begins to have its effect.
At the same time, oftentimes when domestic violence is escalating and it's getting worse and scarier, she's also just busy trying to keep everything together and try to anticipate his next move, try to keep the peace, at the same time that she's trying to figure out, "Is there a way for me to leave? How do I leave?" And most of the time she is met with a lot of insistence on the part of her abuser that she'll never be able to leave. No one will believe her. There aren't options for her. So it is a process. It is very rarely one time does a woman call a hotline and that's it.
Snyder: I spent almost 10 years researching this. It's not that they don't leave; it's that we don't know what leaving looks like. So leaving, as Suzanne said, is a process, not an event. And what happens is they kind of dip their toes into the system. They see if there are resources for them. In many cases, the abuser has such control over a victim [that] he or she (most of the time "he") has isolated a victim from friends, from family, from other types of resources. In many cases they're not able to hold jobs, so they have no economic resources of their own.
There was a woman that I covered in Ohio who had never even opened a bank account on her own, and so when she finally managed to get free — and she got free because her daughter killed her father — she didn't know how to do anything. She didn't drive on her own. She couldn't navigate financial systems. She didn't know how to pay for the house. So now that's a really extreme example, but in those cases where are you going to go? What are you going to do? How are you going to do it?
On why many women recant their testimonies
Snyder: Recanting happens as much as 70 to 80% of the time. Sometimes they recant because it wasn't a serious incident. I have to allow that sometimes that happens. But most of the time, they recant because they know that they're going to have to continue to negotiate with that abuser, particularly if they have kids, and they fear retaliation, so they recant as a show of solidarity. ... Part of the psychology of an abusive relationship is that an abuser has to convince a victim that he is more powerful than the system.
On how if a woman testifies and her abuser gets out of jail, she's in more danger
Dubus: When survivors or victims testify against the abuser, that is a very powerful statement. You have not only told the family secret to somebody — you've told it to the system. And when they've spent so much time proving how powerful they are, how they are tougher than the police, than the courts, that no one is going to catch them, no one's going to believe them, then it is really incumbent upon the system — and when I talk about "the system," I'm talking about everybody who touches the lives of a domestic violence victim and the offender — we need to work together. The probation department and the court and the DA and law enforcement and domestic violence advocates need to all be working together to make sure we're sharing enough information quickly enough so that we can always protect that survivor and her children.
On how narcissism is key to understanding abusers
Snyder: Narcissism is one of the key components of an abuser. ... [Most] abusers, in fact, are not people with anger problems. Generally speaking, they are about power and control over one person or the people in their family. They're often very gregarious. Only about a quarter of the abusers fit that stereotypical definition of someone who is, you know, generally angry. And so the narcissism plays out in the idea that they are owed something, in the idea that they are entitled to their authority, that their partners have to be subservient to them. There's very often traditional gender dynamics in abusive relationships.
Dubus: In our work with survivors, we also notice that abusers typically really do feel like their home is their castle and that everything must be adjusted and retrofitted to his whim, to his mood, to his needs, and there is quick and rapid punishment when it's not.
On how women having guns doesn't make them safer
Snyder: Guns are [often] used as symbols to keep victims in line. Really none of the research backs the idea that a gun in the home makes a woman safer. The other point about that is that guns say to a woman, "You need to arm yourself against your armed abuser." [This] is in essence asking a woman to psychologically inhabit the same intellectual and emotional space that someone who is violent toward her inhabits. In other words, let's try to stop violence with violence, and it doesn't work. There's a researcher in Massachusetts named David Adams who interviewed 14 men who were in prison for killing their wives. Eleven of the 14 said they would not have killed had a gun not been readily available.
On what to do if you are being abused
Dubus: My advice is to tell the story. I think that once you begin to tell the story and you hear your own words describe how it feels ... and describe the actions and the terror that you may feel, it begins to feel real. And sometimes the person that you want to talk to is your best friend or someone who can be very neutral about the partner. It's tough to include your friends because sometimes they're friends with both of you. But every state in our country has a statewide coalition of domestic violence programs, and it's a listing of all domestic violence programs in each state, and so to find a domestic violence program, they're out there. Call an advocate. Call a therapist, someone you know and trust and begin to tell your story, and then things change. Things really do change. There's also the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Carmel Wroth adapted it for the Web.
In the audio of this story, as in a previous Web version, Rachel Louise Snyder incorrectly says the percentage increase in daily domestic violence deaths was 20%. They actually increased by 33%.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Domestic violence isn't just the unfortunate fate of the unlucky few, a matter of bad choices and cruel environment; it's an epidemic, one we can do something about, writes my guest, journalist Rachel Louise Snyder. Her new book, "No Visible Bruises," is about why many women stay with their abusive partners and don't report them or recant after they do.
The book is also about violent men who are trying to change, and it's about new ways of helping protect women from their partners by identifying how grave the risk is, predicting if the man is on the verge of murder and, if so, intervening to protect the woman in danger. That type of risk assessment and intervention was pioneered at a domestic violence crisis center in Massachusetts called the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center. Also with us is the CEO of the center, Suzanne Dubus. She's been the CEO since 1998.
Rachel Louise Snyder, Suzanne Dubus, welcome to FRESH AIR. Rachel, I want to start with you. Why did you want to write this book?
RACHEL LOUISE SNYDER: I wanted to write this book because it was such a stunning discovery that my own knowledge and casual acquaintance with domestic violence was so - almost so blase. I'd been a journalist covering stories of social crises, humanitarian crises around the world for two decades, and domestic violence was so much a part of almost every story that I covered that I didn't even ask about it.
I mean, you know, I'm interviewing child brides in Romania or India, and of course they are also the victims of violence, and it really wasn't until I moved back to America and met your other guest, Suzanne Dubus, that I discovered that domestic violence as a crisis in itself really needed to be deconstructed in a way that so many other social problems have been. And really, nobody was looking at it.
GROSS: Some of the countries that you mentioned and, in many countries around the world, domestic violence is not considered a crime. How relatively recent is it that it is a crime in the U.S.?
SNYDER: In the States, we started to have some legislation against it in the 19th century, but it really wasn't until the women's movement in this country in the 1970s, and even into the '80s, that it was any kind of national discussion. Even in Washington, D.C., where I live, it wasn't a specific law until 1991.
GROSS: You know, one of the questions many people ask is, why don't women leave if they're in an abusive relationship, and Rachel, your book goes a long way in answering that question. So Rachel and Suzanne, I'd like you each to answer that question - why don't women leave abusive relationships, or why do they often not leave?
SUZANNE DUBUS: There are so many reasons that victims stay in violent and abusive relationships. No. 1 - domestic violence happens over a time period; it's not like someone goes out on a date and gets slapped on the first date. If that happened, they would never go back on the second date. But it happens over time. The emotional abuse, the insult, the slowly wearing away at a woman's soul and a sense of who she is, begins to have its effect.
And at the same time, oftentimes, when domestic violence is escalating, and it's getting worse and scarier, she's also just busy trying to keep everything together and try to anticipate his next move, try to keep the peace, at the same time that she's trying to figure out, is there a way for me to leave, how do I leave? And most of the time, you know, she is met with a lot of insistence on the part of her abuser that she'll never be able to leave, no one will believe her, there aren't options for her. So it is a process. It is very rarely one time does a woman call a hotline, and that's it.
SNYDER: That's right. And I would actually add to that - in my research, and I spent almost 10 years researching this, it's not that they don't leave; it's that we don't know what leaving looks like. So leaving, as Suzanne said, is a process, not an event. And what happens is they kind of dip their toes into the system. They see if there are resources for them. In many cases, the abuser has such control over a victim, he or she. Most of the time he has isolated a victim from friends, from family, from other types of resources. In many cases, they're not able to hold jobs, they're not allowed to hold jobs, so they have no economic resources of their own.
There was a woman that I covered in Ohio who had never even opened a bank account on her own, and so when she finally managed to get free - and she got free because her daughter killed her father - she didn't know how to do anything. She didn't drive on her own. She couldn't navigate financial systems. She didn't know how to pay for the house. Now, that was a really extreme example, but in those cases, where are you going to go? What are you going to do? How are you going to do it?
GROSS: Rachel, you write about a program that Suzanne's center, the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Massachusetts initiated. So Suzanne, I want to ask you about that program. Your center had gotten involved with this program after working with a woman whose husband beat her and threatened her. You worked closely with her - your center worked closely with her, trying to keep her safe, but that didn't prevent her from being murdered by her husband. Tell us how she first contacted you.
DUBUS: She actually came to our office. She had just come back - she was at a battered women's shelter in Maine. And her husband was threatening to find her. She really believed that, because he was a cable installer, that he knew where every single confidential battered women's shelter was and believed that it was just a matter of time before he found her and killed her and their two daughters.
And so she got word through some family member that he was about to press kidnapping charges, and she returned to her hometown, where our center is located, and came in and said, listen - I am so done running. I can't continue to go to shelter. My daughters need to go back to school. They need to be with their friends. I need to be in my home. I need to work. And you guys need to do a better job of taking care of him. And it wasn't - you know, we weren't the ones that were going to be confronting her husband, but we - our job was to work with law enforcement.
And so she went into a shelter while we could figure out some preliminary things, and six weeks later, despite having our best advocate - we had an on-staff attorney who was truly just working like crazy to keep her safe. We were coordinating some of our efforts with the police. But in the end, he was allowed access to the family home. The judge had said, because he didn't have a criminal record, he was allowed to keep his tools in the garage. And so he would come in every morning, and he'd get his tools, and he'd return them every night, but what he had was access to his wife.
And so six weeks later, he broke into the home, he pushed past their 11-year-old daughter and shot and killed Dorothy and then killed himself. And the whole time, the 11-year-old daughter was on the phone with dispatch, and it's really a heartbreaking episode.
GROSS: So you tried to protect her and couldn't succeed. One of the reasons why she didn't want to stay at a shelter was that she was afraid that she and her two children would be in one room, and that her husband would come and kill all three of them at the same time. And she thought, if she was at home, chances are he'd kill her, but the kids would survive.
DUBUS: That's right. So that was her fear, and that is what happened. You know what...
GROSS: The kid survived. He killed her. The kid survived.
DUBUS: That's right. The kid survived, and they became orphans in an instant. And I think one of the things that we - you know, we were left reeling because we really worked hard. We knew from the minute she walked in the door this wasn't a case of emotional abuse. This wasn't a case - this required urgency. This was a priority. We knew that the stakes were very high in this - in her situation. And so after she was killed, we really were left reeling, trying to figure out - well, so what are we doing? If we can't save the people who we know are most in danger of being killed, then what is the point?
And what we figured out was - we pulled together a meeting with the police and the district attorney and us. And we really wanted to figure out - so where did it go wrong? And so while everybody was doing their job really well, we weren't working together. We believed that HIPAA and confidentiality laws kind of prevented us from sharing information. And so we really wanted to figure out - if the lack of information sharing with each other was creating gaps that allowed these things to happen, could we begin to look at the work in a different way?
GROSS: So how were you able to coordinate with the police and with the courts and social workers and nurses and ERs? How were you able to bring everybody together and share information?
DUBUS: Well, the wonderful thing is that we found the research from Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. And she had done this really interesting research study on femicide. And she identified 20 lethality factors that are in play as the violence is escalating - that the behaviors are pretty predictable about what is going to happen in her life and how the violence is going to shift.
And if we began to look at the cases that came through our doors - our respective doors in a different way and really identify those, would that give us an opportunity to intervene in a way that we could hold offenders accountable and we could really make sure that survivors were getting services? We know that when survivors are receiving services, they're much more likely to survive and live.
GROSS: So what were some of the risk factors that you learned to identify that would show that a woman was in serious danger, perhaps of being murdered?
DUBUS: So threats to kill are actually - it's a really important risk factor. Strangulation - we know that in 50% of domestic violence cases, strangulation is used. Did they have access to a gun? Are they threatening to kill themselves? Is the behavior escalating? Is there extreme and constant jealousy? Those are some of those lethality factors.
GROSS: So in other words, if somebody has tried to strangle you in the past, that's a warning sign that they might actually murder you in the future.
DUBUS: That's a very important warning sign.
GROSS: So what has this led to in your domestic violence program?
DUBUS: So what we did was - we came back. You had actually asked me, you know, how did we get everyone to come together? So it was - it really was reminding everybody - and it - you know, because we were all sad about what had happened and felt responsible and wishing that we could have figured out what to do differently, it was easy to pull everyone together.
The local judge invited everybody. We did a presentation at the courthouse explaining, here's the research. Here's our idea. Let's pull to get everybody together. Let's work on getting survivors comfortable to tell their story to us, the advocates. And then if they don't want to identify themselves, we can speak hypothetically and in broad terms. But we can begin to work together on these cases.
And law enforcement and prosecution actually has the information they have to write really good reports, and the prosecutors can charge cases in an inappropriate way. And the judiciary can make good decisions. And we can better support survivors.
GROSS: So looking back, what might - if you had the program in place then - when Dorothy, the woman we've been talking about, was murdered by her husband - if you had your program in place then, what might you have been able to do to save her life?
DUBUS: I think the one thing that - well, this definitely would have changed - that when he went before the court - Dorothy's husband went before the court - on a violation of a restraining order, the sitting judge did not have the information he needed to make a good decision. And what her affidavit - that really was a beautiful affidavit that explained her lifetime of abuse at the hands of her husband - it was actually in a different courthouse. And so there was no way for that sitting judge to have that information.
We have since closed that loop, but that would have been a key decision point. The other piece is, you know, to allow - that he was allowed this constant access to her home and was very threatening on a daily basis. And so we would have actually intervened there, as well. So those are two things I can immediately think that we would have changed.
SNYDER: I also think - this is Rachel - I also think that Massachusetts, where this incident happened and where Suzanne's team is based, has a really unique bail statute called the 58A. It's a dangerousness hearing. And so what that means is that a judge has a context for the behavior of any given abuser. And so they didn't really use it in - back when Dorothy was killed in 2003.
But what it does is it allows the prosecution to use things like the affidavit to prove dangerousness. And so they could have said, look. You know, William strangled Dorothy with a telephone cord. He kidnapped her and held her overnight in a warehouse. You know, there were - there was a history in her affidavit that could have been used to not allow him to bail out. As it happened, he bailed out - you know, paid $500 and bailed out within, I don't know, 30 minutes or something of seeing the judge - I mean, just immediately. That would not happen today.
GROSS: How soon after that did he kill his wife?
DUBUS: Four days - he killed her four days later. And Rachel, you bring up a really good point because the other piece that we would have done is that right now we also use GPS monitoring bracelets when someone - when an offender gets out - a dangerous offender gets out. So we could have at least monitored where he was going and made sure that he was far away from the family home.
SNYDER: The other thing that I would add to that is that in the research that Jacquelyn Campbell did on those risk factors - strangulation; beatings while pregnant is another is another big one - the other thing that her research determined is that dangerousness operates on a timeline. So the first 90 days after a victim leaves is the most dangerous time for them of any kind of violence. And there's a drop-off after that. The danger remains pretty high for the first year, but then it drops off. So some of these protections that Suzanne is talking about and that they established at the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center is not a sort of permanent state of being but a way to build systemic protections around a victim for a period of time to kind of ride out that dangerousness.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, I have two guests. Rachel Louise Snyder is the author of the new book "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us." Suzanne Dubus is the CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Massachusetts, which provides services for adults and children who are victims of domestic violence. And the center also developed and administers a domestic violence prevention program. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, we're talking about domestic violence. I have two guests. Rachel Louise Snyder is a journalist whose new book is called "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us." Suzanne Dubus is the CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Massachusetts, which is a service for adults and children who are the victims of domestic violence, and they also developed and administer a domestic violence prevention program.
I want to bring up narcissism because, Rachel, you mentioned narcissism as being one of the characteristics that a lot of abusers and murderers have. How does narcissism figure into domestic violence?
SNYDER: Narcissism is one of the key components of an abuser. You know, we have, I think, a vision of what an abuser is. Right? Even in - even when you see media reports of domestic violence, the pictures of - that most often accompany those media reports are really dark. You know, even, like, the coloration - they're, like, gloomy, dark, dangerous; they're portentous. And people don't recognize themselves in those pictures because, of course, they have a much larger context of just a single moment.
And so abusers, in fact, are not people with anger problems, generally speaking. They are about power and control over one person or the people in their family. So they tend to be very - they're often very gregarious. Only about a quarter of the abusers fit that stereotypical definition of someone who is, you know, generally angry. And so the narcissism plays out in the idea that they are owed something - in the idea that they are entitled to their authority, that their partners have to be subservient to them. There's very often traditional gender dynamics in abusive relationships.
GROSS: I guess the narcissism probably figures into the coercive control part of the relationship? The wife and the children - these are people who the man can control or thinks he can control, tries to control. He can't control the world around him, but he can control them. And it seems like that would be - that that would fit a narcissistic personality who wants the world to just revolve around him.
SNYDER: That's true.
DUBUS: In our works with survivors, we also notice that abusers typically really do feel like their home is their castle and that everything must be adjusted and retrofitted and - to his whim, to his mood, to his needs. And there is, you know, quick and rapid punishment when it's not. And to me, that is narcissism, when the world revolves around you and everybody better get into their constellation and do what they need to do to support, to prop up, to make him feel better - whatever it is he needs that day.
SNYDER: Yeah. It's very black-and-white thinking. Right? Like, it's my way, and this is it.
SNYDER: It's my way, yeah.
GROSS: My guests are Rachel Louise Snyder, author of the new book "No Visible Bruises" and Suzanne Dubus, CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Massachusetts. After a break, Suzanne will talk about being physically abused by her first husband when she was in her 20s, and Rachel will tell us about recently learning that her stepmother had been physically abused by her first husband. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're talking about domestic violence. I have two guests. Journalist Rachel Louise Snyder is the author of the new book "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us." One of the crisis centers she writes about pioneered an approach to assessing if a woman is at risk of being murdered by her husband or partner and, if so, trying to intervene to prevent that. My other guest, Suzanne Dubus, is the CEO of that center.
Suzanne, you are the CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Massachusetts, which helps women who are the victims of domestic violence, and you have a program to assess whether the abuser is likely to become a murderer. You were abused by your first husband. You were very young when you met him. And you've said that you really didn't think of yourself as being abused until you started doing this work, until you started doing work with abused women. So I'm interested in hearing a little bit about your story and about how you interpreted it as it was happening and how you interpret it now. So you met this man when you were a teenager, right?
DUBUS: I think I was 21.
DUBUS: And I was 21. And I was a bartender, and he came in every night to right around closing time, and I would serve him a drink. And after a while, you know, he began to volunteer and help me clean the place, and it was very - he was lovely. He was kind of - I described him as a golden boy. He was easy to laugh. People really enjoyed him. He could speak easily with whoever he was sitting next to, whether it was sports or politics or sport fishing. And I fell head over heels with him.
And it's so hard to talk about this relationship and not now see all the patterns that were there. But it really quickly became just the two of us, and we - I dropped out of college. I - we moved to Florida for a while. And the insults began, and it was very confusing to me because, on one hand, maybe on Sunday he might say, you know, you've got really nice legs, and I don't know why you're not showing them off, and why are you always dressed like that? And then the next day he would accuse me of trying to attract attention, if I dressed the way I thought him - he wanted me to dress.
And so it was this kind of roller coaster of emotions all the time, and always underneath that, there were the insults, that - the I wasn't pretty enough, I wasn't smart enough, I wasn't friendly enough, I wasn't - you could just go down the list. I wasn't all kinds of things. And it really had an effect on me, and I felt - you know, I've said before that I just feel like a shadow of who I was. He also...
GROSS: Did he take away any power that you felt you had?
DUBUS: He did. He took - I felt like he took my agency away. I never would have said it then. But I felt that every single decision was his decision to make, that I felt that I had really no ability to advocate for myself, to live my own life. I desperately wanted to get back to college; that was out of the question. Everything was in support of his life, of his work.
GROSS: But let me ask you - he did start hitting you. You had bruises on your body.
DUBUS: He did.
GROSS: How come you didn't see that as abuse?
DUBUS: I - you know what? I attributed it to alcohol. I thought that this is about - I knew that his father abused his mother. And I thought, well, this is just poor learning, and I can help him with this. And I really took it on as my job to help him to stop abusing me and to also to stop drinking. And so I would begin to only strategize some safety planning for myself - did not think of it that way at the time. But when he was drinking, I would try to distance myself from him. I would try to go to bed early. I would, you know, do all kinds of things to protect myself.
And then the violence began to happen way outside the drinking. And I was scared. I was alone. We lived in - as I said, we'd moved to Florida. So my whole family lived in New England. We didn't have a phone. I - the rule was that when I got my paychecks, I handed them over to him. So I never had money, I never had the keys to my own car, and I didn't have a phone. And I honestly just could not think of a different way to live. I just - options didn't occur to me.
A couple of years later, we moved to California, even farther away from everybody, and I was listening to this radio station as I was driving to work one morning, and this woman was being interviewed; she was opening a domestic violence battered women's shelter. And I remember thinking loudly, in my head, wow, that is so awesome that she's doing that because I'm sure there are a lot of people that need that.
GROSS: But not you?
DUBUS: I didn't think I needed it. Nope. I didn't think I needed it. I didn't identify myself as a victim or a battered woman. I didn't have a black eye. He was going off to these - he was a commercial fisherman, so he would go off for four to six weeks at a time. So the abuse had - there were big, big interruptions. And so it had gotten a little bit better. And so I felt that we were on the upswing. And it all changed when we were living in a hotel.
We had - he had gambled his paycheck away. We couldn't pay rent, and we were evicted. And so we're living in this little hotel. And he came into the hotel one night - I was reading "Sophie's Choice" - and he came in and snatched the book out of my hand and asked me why I never hang out with him, why I never go to the bar with him, why I never come to a party, why I never do this, I never do that. And he started beating me up, and he broke my eardrum that night.
GROSS: Oh, my God.
DUBUS: And then that was when I began to plan my escape. And so I just kept waiting for the weather conditions to get right, for the boat, you know, to get all their supplies, and then he would get on a boat, and he would be gone to Baja, Mexico, for a few weeks, and then it was in that time that I would leave. I wrote to my grandmother. She sent me money for a bus ticket, and she - I had the checks sent to my - the restaurant that I worked. And as soon as he left, I cashed that check, bought a bus ticket and went home.
GROSS: Did he ever follow you and try to hurt you?
DUBUS: He followed me and tried to reconcile with me, which is very typical with domestic violence abusers. No matter how - no matter what they're - the kind of abuse they perpetrate is, whether it's emotional or physical, when they start to realize the rules have shifted, that the power differential is shifting, then there is this immediate kind of - I need to have you back, you're the love of my life, I will never love anyone the way I love you. It's very intoxicating for a long time.
And - but my brothers were around me then. I wasn't isolated anymore. It was easy for me to say, I'll see you, but you have to come to my father's house. And I'll talk to you, and my dad and my brothers are going to be in the other room. And it was during that time where I could say, no, this isn't going to happen. This isn't going to go anywhere. He tried one more time later on, but I was done.
GROSS: So you brought up a really important point here - that some of his possessiveness and isolating behavior, you could interpret as flattery. Like, I love you so much, I don't want any other man to look at you. Therefore, you have to dress a certain way. I love you so much that I want to keep you for myself. No one else can get you. I love you so much, I want you with me all the time.
DUBUS: Absolutely. You know, earlier in the interview, Rachel was talking about how important it is to do this work with young people. And you know, we do a lot of prevention work. But when I think about myself and I think about the era in which I was raised - you know, I was a kid of the '60s and '70s. Our kids - I mean, our parents were like, OK, it's 9 o'clock. I don't want to see you guys back in the house till it's dinner time. We were rough and tumble. We didn't have a lot of supervision. We didn't have - I personally had no adult mentors or people who were checking in on me to ask me how I was feeling about my life and who I was and - was I happy and did I have dreams?
And so I kind of went through - I limped through adolescence really feeling less than, really feeling that happy lives were for other people. And so when this man, who I considered to be a golden boy, turned his attention to me, I could not have been more flattered. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. And it's hard - it's a hard dream to let go of when you realize that's not the case.
GROSS: Do you think he could sniff your lack of self-esteem?
DUBUS: Yes, I do. I think he was expert at figuring out my vulnerabilities and figuring out how to manipulate me and how to leverage all of that to get what he wanted.
GROSS: So you see your story completely differently now than you did then.
DUBUS: I did. So you know, it was after Nicole Brown Simpson's murder I was really moved. I was - had been working in a law firm in Boston. And when she was murdered, I just wanted to do something. And I felt really called to helping victims of domestic violence. And so I called what is now the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center. And I wanted to sign up for the volunteer training. And I ended up not being able to do that.
It was - as a staff person of the crisis center, I went through the volunteer training. And when they began to talk about the cycle of domestic violence, I noticed I could barely breathe. My heart was pounding. My hands were shaking. They were wet. I felt nauseous. And I couldn't get out of that room fast enough. And I get in the car. And I - for a second, I think I must be coming down with something.
And then I realize - no, I have never said to myself that this is what happened to me, that I was a victim of domestic violence, that I was so eager to put that behind me that I just kind of put it in a little tiny box and filed it in the back of my head. And you know, there are - a lot of people say your body is smarter than your brain sometimes. And I felt like my body was reminding me - yeah, you've been through this. You know what this is like. And so it was only - you know, it was about six months into my employment did I begin to really start - come to terms with that and heal.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, I have two guests. Rachel Louise Snyder is the author of the new book "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us." Suzanne Dubus is the CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Massachusetts, which provides services for adults and children who are victims of domestic violence. The center also developed and administers a domestic violence prevention program. We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF GAIA WILMER OCTET'S "MIGRATIONS")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're talking about domestic violence. I have two guests. Rachel Louise Snyder is the author of the new book "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us." Suzanne Dubus is the CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Massachusetts, which developed and administers a domestic violence prevention program.
Rachel Louise Snyder, you're the author of the new book "No Visible Bruises" about domestic violence. And you learned - as you were finishing the book, you learned from your stepmother, who was dying, that she was the victim of abuse. What did she tell you?
SNYDER: It was - honestly, Terry, it was shocking to me. She was in hospice. And it was actually my father who said something to me. They knew I was writing this book. And my father said, yeah, your mom - meaning my stepmom - her first marriage was abusive. And I had had no idea. She had met him, I think, at 15, was pregnant at 16 and divorced by her early 20s. So I went into the bedroom where she was. She was unable to get out of bed by then. But I closed the door and I said, you know, Mom, Dad told me your first marriage was abusive. And she said, yeah, it was. It was. And then she told me that her childhood home, in fact, had also been abusive. And I just had had no idea. You know, I'd - she'd been my stepmother for 38 years, and I never knew.
And I thought, you know, she knows I've been researching this for the last - whatever it was - eight years or something at that point. And she had never said anything to me. No one had ever said anything. I just couldn't believe it. And she didn't want to talk about it. You know, she knew she was dying. But I did dedicate the book to her, and I was able to tell her that I was dedicating the book to her before she died. So I'm really grateful for that.
GROSS: I think that story is an example of both how widespread and how secretive domestic violence is.
SNYDER: You know, it's really true, Terry, that it is - still today there's so much shame. You know, just on the drive over here this morning, I was thinking - so we have new statistics now. You know, for years, we said that three women a day were killed by their partners in America. And since 2017, that statistic is now four, which is a 20% increase. And 2017 is also when the #MeToo movement really gained momentum. And it's hard for me to think that those two things are operating in isolation from one another.
GROSS: So I just want to ask you about guns, and this is a point you make in your book, Rachel, that a lot of people say having a gun at home protects women from danger. But you say having a gun at home puts a lot of women in danger if they have an abusive husband because that gun can be used to threaten or to shoot.
SNYDER: Sure. A lot of guns are used as symbols - right? - to keep victims in line. Really, none of the research backs the idea that a gun in the home makes a woman safer. And, you know, the other point about that is that guns - to say to a woman, oh, well, you need to arm yourself against your armed abuser is in essence asking a woman to psychologically inhabit the same intellectual and emotional space that someone who is violent toward her inhabits. In other words, let's try to stop violence with violence, and it doesn't work. There's a researcher in Massachusetts named David Adams who interviewed 14 men who were in prison for killing their wives. Eleven of the 14 said they would not have killed had a gun not been readily available.
GROSS: Suzanne, one more question for you. You didn't think of your story as being a story about spousal abuse until you started doing work with the women who were victims of abuse. For any woman who's listening now who is or suspects she is a victim of abuse and hasn't taken any action yet, what's the first thing that you'd recommend? And maybe this doesn't apply to everybody. Maybe every case is different. But is there any advice that you'd give to a woman who is realizing that she's a victim and that she needs to protect herself?
DUBUS: I think that my advice is to tell the story. I think that once you begin to tell the story and you hear your own words describe how it feels to live where - how you live and describe the actions and the terror that you may feel, it begins to feel real. And sometimes the person that you want to talk to is your best friend or someone who can be very neutral about the partner. It's tough to include your friends because sometimes they're friends with both of you. But every state in our country has a statewide coalition of domestic violence programs. And it is a listing of all the domestic violence programs in each state. And so to find a domestic violence program - they're out there. Call an advocate. Call a therapist, someone you know and trust, and begin to tell your story. And then things change. Things really do change. There's also the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
GROSS: OK. I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.
SNYDER: Thank you, Terry.
DUBUS: Thank you.
GROSS: Rachel Louise Snyder is the author of the new book "No Visible Bruises" and Suzanne Dubus is the CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Massachusetts. After we take a short break, Ken Tucker will review an album by the R&B group the Nat Turner Rebellion. Their debut album has been released for the first time, a half-century after it was recorded. This is FRESH AIR.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, as in a previous Web version, Rachel Louise Snyder incorrectly says the percentage increase in daily domestic violence deaths was 20%. They actually increased by 33%.]
(SOUNDBITE OF ALABAMA SHAKES SONG, "GIMME ALL YOUR LOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.