Pattern found to domestic abuse killings

Family Law|September 2nd 2019

We all hear about domestic abuse-related killings in the mainstream media. As I closely follow family law-related news, I probably read more about them than most, and as a family lawyer they strike a particular chord. There is something especially depressing about these events – one can’t help wondering in each case whether more could have been done to protect the victim. It was therefore with particular interest that I read a story in the news last week about some new research into the killing of women by their intimate, or former intimate partners, known as ‘Intimate Partner Femicide’ (‘IPF’).

Now, before I go on I should say that I am perfectly aware that men can also be the victims of domestic abuse-related killings, known as ‘Intimate Partner Homicide (‘IPH’). However, as Dr Jane Monckton Smith, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the Gloucestershire, who carried out the research, points out, the vast majority of IPH victims (82%) are women, hence the concentration on IPF.

The research examined 372 IPF cases documented on the Counting Dead Women website, which lists women suspected to have been killed by men in the UK since 2012, and found an eight-stage pattern to the killings. The pattern is very instructive, and I shall go through each stage. As it is important that this knowledge is shared, I will take the liberty of lifting sections from the study.

Stage One: pre-relationship: It was found that a history of controlling patterns, domestic abuse, or stalking was present in every case where a pre-relationship history was recorded. The research refers to the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, better known as ‘Clare’s Law’, which allows police to disclose past histories of abuse to new partners, and which obviously provides a way in which potential victims can protect themselves. I’m not saying that a person cannot change, but I’m sure they must at least acknowledge their problem, and preferably seek help.

Stage Two – Early Relationship: The data suggested that the way a relationship started was different to what it would become. For example, the relationships often started with the perpetrator being attentive, and progressed to possessiveness and control in most cases. It appeared that normal romantic expectations and activities were present, but speeded up. This stage appears dominated by attempts to seek early and firm commitment. Once commitment is secured, this seems to convey certain gendered rights and responsibilities, and once commitment is given by the female, it cannot be withdrawn.

Stage Three – Relationship: When the relationship was confirmed and committed, at least some of the high risk ‘behavioural markers’, such as controlling behaviour, were noted in all cases. Stalking and monitoring patterns were significantly present, sometimes accompanied by paranoia that the woman was being unfaithful. This stage was found to have the most diversity in length of time. Some cases saw this stage last as little as 3 – 6 weeks, in others it was as long as 50 years. Where control was maintained, or the man did not want to end the relationship, it could potentially last a lifetime.

Stage Four – Trigger/s: The reasons given for men killing their partners overwhelmingly revolved around withdrawal of commitment, or separation. How many times have we heard the abuser tell the victim: “If I can’t have you, nobody can”?

Stage Five – Escalation: i.e. an increase in the frequency, severity or variety of abuse, control or stalking, in an attempt to re-establish control or status. We are told that this stage is very common but that, hopefully, progression to stage six is not inevitable.

Stage Six – A change in thinking/decision: The idea that homicide may be a possibility may occur at this time, possibly as a response to perceived irretrievable loss of control and/or status. The perpetrator may think that there is nowhere left to go to resolve their outrage, or sense of injustice. The decision may still be reversed, or reliant on opportunity.

Stage Seven – Planning: For example, internet searches on methods to kill, and the purchasing of weapons. This stage could potentially last anywhere from a couple of hours, to one case where it lasted over twelve months.

Stage Eight – Homicide: The act itself.

I think the thing that strikes me about all of this is how depressingly familiar so much of it is, even if the outcome is thankfully comparatively rare. All family lawyers would have come across most of the above, at least until stage five. As I said above, this knowledge need to be shared, so that victims and those who care for them are aware of the stages, and can identify the risks.

You can find the study here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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