Is it possible to track the specific steps taken by domestic abusers before they kill their victims? One researcher not only believes it is possible, but that it could save lives.
A History of Domestic Abusers
If you are interested in criminology, you may have come across criminologist Dr. Jane Monckton Smith. She is a former police officer and now a globally renowned university lecturer. She specialises in stalking, coercive control, and preventing homicide.
Dr. Monckton Smith is often asked to give her expert advice in true-life crime programmes such as ‘Killer in my Village’. She has written several books including ‘In Control: Dangerous Relationships and How They End Up In Murder’.
Her area of expertise has always been interpersonal violence, or, what we used to call – domestic violence.
Domestic abuse kills 30,000 victims worldwide every year, but, there has been a lot of misconception about domestic violence.
Perhaps this is because domestic abuse was considered to be a private matter between partners. As such, it was not seen to be subject to the criminal justice system. It is a hidden crime, often occurring behind closed doors, with family members unaware of what is going on.
It is only in the last couple of decades that domestic abuse was finally being taken seriously. However, the consensus was that domestic abusers snapped and were unable to control their aggression towards their partners.
Their homicidal acts were crimes of passion. The perpetrators would describe a ‘red mist’ descending, or they said they couldn’t remember anything about the crime.
Studying Domestic Violence
But this didn’t ring true for Dr. Monckton Smith. She began studying the case files of the murder victims, and rather than crimes of passion that occurred spontaneously, a very different picture emerged.
Dr. Monckton Smith told the BBC:
“We’ve been relying on the ‘crime of passion, spontaneous red-mist’ explanation [of killing] forever – and it’s just not true. If you start looking at all these cases, there’s planning, determination, there’s always coercive control.”
In the overwhelming majority of the homicides, the crimes were meticulously planned. This destroyed the domestic abusers’ account of acting in the heat of the moment. But, there was more.
She discovered that before a domestic abusers’ behaviour escalated into murder, it followed a distinct pattern.
Jean-Luc Lemahieu, director of policy analysis and public information at the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, agrees. He told The Washington Post that domestic homicides are:
“…not without predictions — you see incidences of verbal and other forms of violence. The pattern is established long before the homicide.”
Dr. Monckton Smith reviewed 372 case studies where the relationship ended in homicide by the domestic abuser. In the overwhelming majority of all the cases, she identified an 8-step pattern of escalating behaviour.
Domestic Abusers’ 8-Step Pattern of Behaviour
1. Pre-relationship – History of abuse in previous relationships
In almost all domestic abusers’ past, there will be some form of violence towards their previous partners. Unfortunately, the current partner may know nothing about this.
The problem with domestic abusers is that on the surface they appear extremely charming. They use manipulative techniques to inveigle their way into your life.
As someone who has experienced a coercive controlling relationship, I can attest to this. My ex was a kind, caring man who would do anything for anyone. However, in hindsight, there were plenty of red flags.
He told me that he didn’t speak to a partner once for a whole week because she would not cook him breakfast one morning. She was looking after their two small children at the time. I was puzzled. Why didn’t he cook his own breakfast? ‘It’s her job‘ he snapped back at me.
2. Early stages – Enters into the relationship extremely quickly
Why do domestic abusers want to enter a relationship quickly? Is it because they know the longer you spend time with them, the more likely you are to discover their true nature?
My ex did exactly this. We hadn’t even talked about the two of us living together, the next minute he was at my doorstep with his bags already packed, ready to move in. Because he had nowhere to go I was pressured into allowing the relationship to move at a faster speed than I wanted it to.
I felt as if it would have been cruel to say to him that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted him to live with me. On reflection, what I should have said was, ‘We haven’t discussed you moving in, you need to find somewhere else.’
3. Relationship – Begins coercive controlling behaviour
As soon as my ex moved in, the control started. He wanted to know where I was going, he would time me coming and going from places, he would question what I was wearing.
Coercive control is a manipulative technique that controls you even when the person is not there with you. It keeps you in a prison of worry and anxiousness. Your movements, calls, and texts are monitored.
You tread on eggshells, wondering what mood the person is going to be in when they get home. What have you done wrong this time? It is important to realise that while this is happening, you are also being belittled.
You are constantly told that you are not good enough or that no one else would want or put up with you. You are lucky that he or she wants you because you don’t deserve love.
4. Trigger – Control is threatened
This is the most dangerous stage in the relationship, it is when control over the relationship is threatened in some way. This could be the relationship breaking down and the victim of abuse decides to leave.
Or it could be a loss of face within the wider community such as financial problems that the family are not aware of. For example, family annihilators will rather kill their whole family than face the shame of a failed business or losing their home.
5. Escalation – Increase in severity and frequency of threatening behaviour
If the partner has left the relationship or has embarked on a new relationship, it is at this stage we will see an escalation in the frequency of text messages and calls to the victim.
The messages will become more threatening, but they will also be desperate and may include suicidal threats.
Domestic abusers are known to leave hundreds of texts in a day or call constantly. They get increasingly angry when they are ignored. At this point, a restraining order might be in place and this will anger them even more. Stalking behaviour begins.
6. Thinking changes – Feelings of injustice and wanting revenge
Now the thinking has changed from wanting the ex-partner back to feelings of absolute fury and damage to their ego. How dare this person do this to me? Who do they think they are to ignore me? Well, I’ll show them. If I can’t have them no one will.
7. Planning stage – Buying weapons, plotting opportunities
The domestic abuser begins a plan of action. They will increase their stalking and get everything into place for the final act. This may include buying weapons or cleaning materials, taking pictures of the victim’s house, luring the victim to a place where they will commit the murder, and digging a grave.
8. Homicide – Act of extreme violence
When a homicide occurs, it can take different forms.
Domestic abusers may kill their victim then commit suicide, or they might try and make the murder look like an accident and get away from the scene. They might abduct their ex-partner so that police do not have a body or they may remain at the scene and admit to the killing.
Why It Is Important to Identify Domestic Abusers at Stages 1-2
Now that these stages have been identified, what can we do with this information?
Dr. Monckton Smith asserts that if a relationship progresses through stages 1 and 2, separation at a later point in the relationship will be met with some resistance.
When there is a progression through stages 3-5, separation later on will be very difficult.
However, if a relationship progresses to stages 5 – 7, there is a high likelihood of an attempt on the victim’s life.
While none of us has any guarantees in relationships, there is one indicator we should all be on the lookout for – a history of abuse in previous relationships.
If you are dating online, find out as much about your potential date before you agree to meet them. Check social media accounts, talk to the person and ask about previous relationships.
Pay attention to any accounts of disputes with an ex-partner. Do they play down police involvement or prison time? Do they blame the ex for being vindictive or withholding access to children? These are huge red flags.
Dr. Monckton Smith’s research has shown that domestic abusers use speed and manipulation to assert their control. Don’t be forced into a relationship before you are ready. Because once you are committed to one of the 8 stages, it becomes much more difficult to escape.
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