When abusive relationship turn deadly: Spot the signs before it's too late.

Jason Brien.

     Intimate partner violence (IPV) is domestic violence. It is any type of abuse which occurs within the confines of personal and intimate relationship between two or more people (monogamous and polygamous relationships). IPV often involves overt and covert acts of violence, intimidation, sexual, emotional, physical and verbal abuse and/or any other form of degradation. IPV is not restricted to heterosexual relationships either. Ultimately, perpetrators of domestic violence seek to control and isolate their intimate partners by effectively rendering the partner compliant, dependent and isolated from friends, family and other external resources.

     The psychological impact of having experienced single or multiple incidences of DV is significant and can easily launch the victim into an acute crisis state. In the moments of abuse, and the immediate aftermath, the sufferer/survivor may experience intense fear, depression, anxiety, helplessness, powerlessness, deep concern for safety of self and others (children) and may feel guilt and blame for having ‘caused’ the abuse. It is also common for the abused to experience physical injuries stemming directly from the abuse, difficulty relaxing and/or sleeping, hypervigilance and/or racing thoughts.

     Intimate partner homicide (IPH) is when one of the intimate partners is killed by the other intimate partner/s. The majority of intimate partner violence/homicide research is centred around violence/homicide which occurs male to female or female to male. Unfortunately, there is a lack of research centred around same sex couples and their experiences of intimate partner violence/homicide. Of all the research that does exist, in both straight relationships and same sex relationships, the findings have suggested that the strongest or most common risk factor for intimate partner homicide is previous and/or ongoing domestic abuse.  

     Dr Jane Monckton Smith, a Professor of Public Protection at the University of Gloucestershire, examined the deaths of 575 women and concluded that 372 of the women had been killed by their intimate partner (either current or former). Dr Smith found that within heterosexual relationships specifically, 80% of intimate partner homicide victims were women thus making the vast majority of the perpetrators male. As a result of her study, Dr Smith discovered an 8-stage pattern which was present in all of the 372 killings.

Stage 1: Pre relationship history; All of the perpetrators responsible for the deaths of the women examined had a prior history of domestic violence, prior history of accusations of domestic violence, controlling behaviours and/or a criminal record. 

Stage 2 : Early relationship behaviours; The perpetrators all displayed signs of early commitment. They either encouraged cohabitation very early, encouraged pregnancy very early or made a marriage proposal very soon after the relationship commenced. They were also very quick to make declarations of love using words and phrases such as “mine”, “you’re my soul mate” or “we will be together for ever”.

 Stage 3: Relationship behaviours/red flags; The perpetrators had a tendency to engage in the following behaviours - coercive control, stalking (even low level like going through bag, phone, etc), possessiveness, violence (even low level like shoving or breaking things), threats of suicide or homicide, forced isolation from family and friends, drug and/or alcohol problems and more. 

Stage 4: Impending homicide warning signs; Threat of, or actual separation or divorce, division of assets, financial problems (debts, bankruptcy), unemployment, perpetrator or victim’s mental or physical health deteriorates, events which might engender ‘revenge’ (e.g., a real or imagined affair by the victim).

Stage 5: Escalation warning signs; Concerning behaviours become more frequent, serious or severe. Threats to kill victims, children, family or pets. Threats of suicide. Possessive use of language “you can never leave me”, “we will die together”, or “I won’t let you leave with my kids”. 

Stage 6: Change in thinking warning signs; Perpetrator’s last attempts at reconciliation. Victim begins new relationship, stops contact with perpetrator or moves away. Perpetrator is facing financial disaster (starts considering insurance payouts), their mental or physical health is quickly and irreversibly deteriorating or their perceived status is diminished. 

Stage 7: Planning homicide warning signs; Sudden changes in usual behaviour. Withdraw suddenly or become unusually menacing. High level stalking (monitoring GPS, listening devices, google searches, etc). Collecting, making or purchasing weapons. May tell others of their homicidal plans or make subtle hints (“soon all my problems will be over”). 

Stage 8: Characteristics of the homicide; Clear homicide with confession, Homicide with suicide of offender, made to look like suicide or mercy killing. Made to look like accident, natural causes or self-defence. Stage missing persons. Contact media. Appeal to public. Participate in searches, etc. 

Whilst it is easy for mental health professionals and laypersons alike to advocate for reduced or no contact with abusive people, the person attempting to escape the abusive person/s needs to consider the consequences of making rash decisions and breaking off contact with their abuser without professional help (Lawyers, police, therapists, etc). 

This is because intimate partner violence is more likely to occur when the relationship has ended or is being perceived as potentially ending soon. The perpetrators sudden loss of control over their victim and the relationship can cause them to seek homicidal revenge.





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Dutton, M. A. (1993). Understanding women 's responses to domestic violence: A redefinition of battered woman syndrome. Hofstra Law Review,  

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