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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
Domestic abuse: eight-stage pattern study

Awareness of criminal behaviour is one of the key aspects of self-protection. Awareness of the dynamics of abusive relationships should certainly be included in this. This new study will therefore be of interest to all here who are also involved in self-protection instruction (as well as law-enforcement). A partner having previous history of stalking or abuse, a quickly developing relationship, and the exercise of coercive control being serious warning signs that should not be ignored.


All the best,


Men who kill their partners follow a "homicide timeline" that could be tracked by police to help prevent deaths, new research suggests.

Criminology expert Dr Jane Monckton Smith found an eight-stage pattern in 372 killings in the UK.

The University of Gloucestershire lecturer said controlling behaviour could be a key indicator of someone's potential to kill their partner …

… The eight steps she discovered in almost every killing were:

1) A pre-relationship history of stalking or abuse by the perpetrator

2) The romance developing quickly into a serious relationship

3) The relationship becoming dominated by coercive control

4) A trigger to threaten the perpetrator's control - for example, the relationship ends or the perpetrator gets into financial difficulty

5) Escalation - an increase in the intensity or frequency of the partner's control tactics, such as by stalking or threatening suicide

6) The perpetrator has a change in thinking - choosing to move on, either through revenge or by homicide

7) Planning - the perpetrator might buy weapons or seek opportunities to get the victim alone

8) Homicide - the man kills his partner, and possibly hurts others such as the victim's children

The only instance where a stage in the model was not followed was when men did not meet stage one - but this was normally because they had not had a relationship before, she said.

… Dr Monckton Smith has taught her model to lawyers, psychologists, police forces across the country and probation officers.

She hopes that now the study has been published in the Violence Against Women Journal, the model can be rolled out more widely.

"As soon as they see it, victims and professionals are able to say, 'Oh my God, I've got a case at stage three', or 'My relationship is at stage five'," she said.

"Police have been incredibly receptive, and recognise the steps in cases they are working on, because it speaks to their experience and makes an order out of the chaos that is domestic abuse, coercive control and stalking," she added.

Dr Monckton Smith said once police learn the eight stages, they will be able to keep track of certain potential perpetrators - while victims will more easily be able to articulate to professionals what situation they are in.

She also said there should be more research into ways in which victims can leave controlling relationships safely, and into what causes people to seek control in intimate relationships.

Frankie's picture

Hi Iain, I also came across this study recently, I think it absolutely critical, particularly for those teaching women's self-defense. In the context of women's self-defense training, this topic is rarely discussed and there is nothing taught on the kinds of pre-attack indicators for domestic murders, even though the pattern is often very consistent. On a more concrete level, acts like strangulation are also apparently reliable pre-attack indicators, with (if I remember correctly) something like 1 in 8 strangulations proceeding to murder. The logical and really only possible step in the long run is to leave such a relationship. However there are also the following complications:

1) how you leave, and in what kind of a hurry, can have an enormous effect on your life for years, influencing things like your ability to provide for your kids and deal with ensuing legal consequences, and ...

2) leaving is in itself one of the worst things you can do to escalate the violence or potential violence in such a situation - you are most at risk in the week or two after you leave (again, if I remember correctly) Therefore, knowing what stage you are at in the process enables you to decide if you have time to call your 5 burly friends to help you move, or if you have to stockpile important documents etc at work, or if you need to run for your life right now.

Again, I think more of this should be taught in women's self-defense classes, since I have come across several statistics that indicate that you are more likely to be raped and murdered in your own home by someone you know, usually a current or former partner - so it is less "stranger danger" than "nearest and dearest" that is likely to harm you. I know this is often quite a confronting topic but I would be really interested to see some discussion.