Updated: Feb 27
Written by Chiara Blasio – member of AVA
Recognising being a victim of domestic abuse can be hard, as abuse is not only physical or sexual violence, but can also be emotional, controlling, or coercive, and economic. When domestic abuse is not reported or counteractions are not effective, the very first consequence is that victims become isolated and are unable to use a support system due to their lack of awareness. This is exactly what the abuser wants: to control the victim up to the most alarming consequence - homicide.
The connection between domestic abuse and homicide has been researched widely and as a matter of fact, a history of abusive controlling and coercive behaviour has always been found behind domestic homicides. It is also a fact that - like domestic abuse - domestic homicide is highly gendered: of 373 domestic homicides recorded by police in a 3-year period between 2019 and 2021, 72.1% were female. Response and advocacy are therefore necessarily gender-focused and this is the perspective to adopt when analysing relevant data.
In 2022, the Domestic Homicide Project showed in the two-year period from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2022 that there were 470 deaths in total, which occurred in a domestic setting or following domestic abuse, including 43% intimate partner homicides, 24% suspected victim suicides, 22% adult family homicides, 8% child death, and 3% ‘other’. Almost half of all suspects (48%) had previously been reported to the police, and in most cases, suspects were likely to have a previous domestic abuse police record.
Crucial data regarding the link between domestic abuse and homicide are to be found also in Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHR), namely reviews into the circumstances around a death following domestic abuse which were established on a statutory basis under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.
But how does domestic abuse escalate to homicide? A detailed answer can be found in Dr Monckton Smith’s pioneering research; in 2018 she identified a pattern of abusive behaviours in almost all of the 372 killings she studied and created an eight-step homicide timeline as a result:
1) A pre-relationship history of stalking or abuse by the perpetrator
2) The romance develops quickly into a serious relationship
3) The relationship becomes dominated by coercive control
4) A trigger threatens 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 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 perpetrator kills his or her partner and possibly hurts others such as the victim's children.
The eight-step timeline is an effective resource for police, social workers, and other professionals to establish a safety planning and risk assessment in dealing with domestic abuse and hopefully stop the escalation. In particular, it shows how important it is that domestic abuse is identified more robustly since the first appearance of controlling and coercive behaviour, such as early declarations of love and using possessive language. Intervention is in fact possible at every stage, but a multi-agency response is necessary to be able to prevent domestic abuse and thus homicide.
This was reiterated also in the Home Office’s latest DHR analysis, which highlighted specifically that there needs to be an enhanced training for frontline practitioners, health services and all the other professionals involved to improve risk assessments and coordinated responses, as well as more robust record keeping.
Most importantly, both research and practice underline the paramount importance of an effective system of sharing information to achieve a true multi-agency response, in which all professionals are alerted and able to protect the victim accordingly so that critical situations can be prevented from escalating further.
Indeed, raising awareness through targeted information systems and education appears to be the only way to change the attitude towards domestic abuse and constantly challenge its underlying toxic culture. Many of these women had been murdered after years of abuse, which was not reported because available services were not known, or when reported expected support was not effective to prevent the horrific escalation. Therefore, “breaking the barriers”through a holistic partnership approach will ensure that the response is in the best interests of the victim.
 Domestic Abuse Act 2021, S.1(3)  Elkin, 'Domestic abuse prevalence and trends, England and Wales: year ending March 2022' (Office for National Statistics, November 2022) <https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/domesticabuseprevalenceandtrendsenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2022> accessed 3 February 2023  ‘Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme (VKPP) Domestic Homicides and Suspected Victim Suicides 2021-2022 Year 2 Report’, (Home Office, December 2022) <https://www.vkpp.org.uk/assets/Files/Domestic-Homicide-Project-Year-2-Report-December-2022.pdf>  National Police Chief’s Council, ‘Domestic homicides remain stable during lockdown but still an enduring problem says new police report’ (25 August 2021) <https://news.npcc.police.uk/releases/domestic-homicides-show-no-significant-increase-during-lockdown-says-new-police-report>  ‘Multi-agency Statutory Guidance for the Conduct of Domestic Homicide Reviews’, (Home Office, December 2016) <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/575273/DHR-Statutory-Guidance-161206.pdf>  Dr Monckton-Smith, ‘Homicide Timeline – The 8 Stages’, (2019) <ttps://eprints.glos.ac.uk/7797/>  Verney, ‘Do you know the 8 Step Timeline in Domestic Abuse Homicides?’, (Domestic Violence Assessment Consultancy and Training, July 2020) <https://www.dvact.org/post/do-you-know-the-8-step-timeline-in-domestic-abuse-homicides>  Home Office, Domestic Homicide Reviews, ‘Key Findings from analysis of Domestic Homicide Reviews’, December 2021, <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/key-findings-from-analysis-of-domestic-homicide-reviews/key-findings-from-analysis-of-domestic-homicide-reviews>  AVA Project, ‘Breaking Down the Barriers, Findings of the National Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and Multiple Disadvantage’, 2019 <https://avaproject.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Breaking-down-the-Barriers-full-report-.pdf>