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Someone recently told me a horror story. Unfortunately it was not fiction but all too real- a woman was unwell and in hospital. Her husband visited and wanted to take her out into the gardens in the sunshine which all the nurses thought was a lovely idea- she reluctantly agreed. Instead of the gardens he took her onto an empty ward and strangled her. 

Someone else told me another story - of a man who threw his wife off a fourth floor balcony this weekend.

And there have been numerous other stories where there was pre-meditated harm caused: a man who systematically shredded all the legal and financial documents about house ownership prior to leaving with his mistress and all the family's passports - another who got a removal van and totally emptied the house while his wife was at work- down to the salt and pepper cellars.

I've met women who are not allowed to work, are made pregnant every time they think about leaving a relationship, tremble with fear about someone leaving a mark on the living room carpet that means their husband will know they had friends round, and others who are systematically kept separated from friends and family...

No one talks about it- but there are so many stories. Almost everyone has a story that's unfolded close by.  But these stories live in the gloaming- mostly we are not sure, don't want to think, don't want to believe- we might be wrong and no one can really know for sure -can they?

These horrific events don't happen out of the blue- they are almost always highly pre-meditated rather than spontaneous crimes of passion. There are clear and ubiquitous patterns and processes and slowly academic studies are managing to map them and grow awareness of what they are: Jane Monckton Smith has undertaken one such study and has  developed an eight-stage homicide timeline, laying out identifiable stages in which coercive relationships can escalate to violence and murder.

She shows how many many relationships hover for years or decades around stage 4- if we think about it we all know at least one of these couples.  They may never escalate further- thankfully most won't - but at all stages these relationships are controlling and dangerous and adversely affect all aspects of someone's life.

The purpose of her study is to show the warning flags, to show the progression, and to raise awareness of where it might lead - and opportunities for intervention.

Stage 1: A  history of control in previous relationships -often they tell you how awful she was.

Stage 2: The commitment whirlwind - it seems almost too good to be true: he's so sure and seems so perfect.

Stage 3: Living with control - she actively changes her habits and daily routines to accommodate and placate the controller.

Stage 4: Trigger - something sets them off, but desist and we are back to a fear-filled stage 3

Stage 5: Escalation - its getting worse. Sometimes the authorities are involved on their behalf e.g. in ugly and drawn out child custody or divorce battles.

Stage 6: A  change in thinking - they seem more generous and calmer- its unusual and not at all normal.

Stage 7: Planning - they are carefully planning ahead of stage 7

Stage 8: Homicide and/or suicide- yes a woman's suicide can be an end game as well as a homicide.

It's not an easy read but I suggest everyone needs to read this book. Together we can save lives.


In Control: Dangerous Relationships and How They End in Murder -  Jane Monckton Smith

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