Traumatic States: Gendered Violence, Suffering, and Care in Chile.

By Nia Parson. (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2013. 248 pp., $24.95 List; $9.99 eBook)

Book Review by Kimberly Mathis Pitts

In Traumatic States: Gendered Violence, Suffering, and Care in Chile, anthropologist Nia Parson examines the role of the state in the quotidian violence of a post-Pinochet Chile through the life histories of three women survivors of interpersonal violence. Parson explores Chilean legal system changes, the manner in which women have negotiated judicial and medical systems, and the effect of new domestic violence legislation. The author demonstrates the resilience of women living in a culture of violence as she recounts their quest for care in overcoming a normalized violence. Paralleling the story of the women’s lives is the documentation of women’s organizations and their shifting position on domestic violence in a newly democratic Chile.

Parson’s critique of the effect of macro-level decisions in political and economic spheres on the micro-level through personal testimonies provides the reader with a contextualized understanding of the personal cost of state domestic violence policies. Through anecdotal stories, the reader learns of the manner in which women negotiate the juridical-medical complex.  The state’s mistreatment of women is exposed in the mismanagement of cases in which victims have little or no contact with lawyers and judges, paperwork is lost and there are court “time lags.”  In a system that focuses on reconciliation regardless of the cost, women have the burden of proving that they are victims who deserve support.

The medical care which women victims of domestic violence are given is further contingent upon the ability to prove that they are “good victims.” However, the author warns of the dangers of medicalizing violence or giving domestic violence psychoactive medications as a palliative. Acknowledging the effect of social class differences on gendered violence experiences, it is important to recognize that individualized therapy is not a panacea as women’s needs extend beyond the psychopharmacological interventions to include class-based issues such as a lack of transportation to clinics and off-patent medications.

Parson argues that in a nation that proclaims modernity, including gender equality, the state’s judicial and medical interventions are inadequate. While critical of the judicial system’s stance, the author acknowledges the lack of resources and training for law enforcement in domestic violence situations. Much of the criticism is focused at the state level, yet recommendations for improvement are focused on the individual. In working with women victims of domestic violence, it is important to recognize that while some women are knowledgeable of their rights as a citizen and persistent in self-advocacy, not all women victims possess such agency. While many advocates focus on legal and medical care for women victims of domestic violence, the author acknowledges the role of women’s economic dependence and suggests that care for women should include vocational training and other interventions that will have a meaningful impact on their lives.

Traumatic States: Gendered Violence, Suffering, and Care in Chile analyzes structural gendered violence. Parson’s use of personal testimony, accompanied by law enforcement and women’s organization staff interviews, as well as her participation in women’s organization staff meetings, events and therapies, provides a personalized understanding of judicial changes in domestic violence legislation.  The author is not only critical of the role of the state; she implicates the state in its complicity to gendered violence evidenced by impunity. Academic in tone and firmly grounded in the anthropology of gendered violence literature, the book is likely to appeal to those interested in gendered violence and Latin American studies.

Kimberly Pitts was assistant professor of Sociology until 2016 at Campbellsville University, Campbellsville, Kentucky. She holds a Ph.D. from University of New Mexico.

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