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 said:

“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 said 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.

Final Thoughts

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. 

Copyright © 2012-2024 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.

power of misfits book banner desktop

Like what you are reading? Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss new thought-provoking articles!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. charmain wilson

    Thank you for this informative article. One comment I would like to add about Step 1 is that relatives of the abuser often have information they are unwilling to share with you about their son, brother, cousin, etc. I met my ex through a friend at work. He was her brother. She never mentioned his previous violence towards his ex to me until it was later in the relationship. She also didn’t mention that her father had been an abuser and often beat on my mother-in-law when my ex and his sister were growing up! Prior knowledge about an abuser would definitely be helpful! Great article.

  2. Deb

    According to the abuse I experienced, there was only one of the eight signs mentioned in the article (a volatile relstionship with his ex-wife). Perhaps there are more abuse paterns than the writer researched. I feel that my domestic abuse stemmed strictly from alcohol abuse! The violent relationship with my abuser’s ex-wife was fuelded by drugs and alcohol, and the violent interactions with my ex were fueled by his alcohol use. Once I became aware of his drinking problem, I could see a pattern. He would become boisterous and jovial, then obnoxious, like turning up the music too loud and refusing to turn down the volume, tossing his beverage onto my face, or pushing me. Once, he threw me through a sheetrock wall. When he knocked me backward so hard onto the kitchen floor that it sounded like my head cracked – and I felt faint – I knew I had to leave or die – so I left and lived to tell about it! By the way, he never actually hit me! One of my greatest accomplishments is overcoming the hatred I developed for that man! We’ve been divorced for almost 30 years, and no one has been abusive to me since! I’m remarried, almost 20 years now, to a very kind man who rarely drinks.

  3. kelly

    Thank you. People need to be more aware of this behavior instead of blaming the victim. “Why did she get involved with him?” Most people don’t understand that most abusers start out “nice” because who would want anything to do with a guy whose first act was something aggressive or violent? Abusers have a pattern of behavior and do their best to hide it until they have their victim under control.

    1. Cee Cee

      THANK YOU, Kelly!!!!!! I began work in Iowa that will become nationwide surrounding the things we often don’t know about domestic violence. In many articles, panels, interviews, etc., I keep pounding this same message! Who in the world sees a man like Idris Elba’s character in “No Good Deed” and says to themselves, “Oh yes, I want to be in a long relationship with this violent man!”? NO ONE. We think we know them, we commit, we become loyal, and then the violent behavior emerges. We wait for them to “come back to themselves” the person we thought we met. Not knowing that all along, the violent is who they really are. Again I say, THANK YOU, Kelly!!!

Leave a Reply