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  • Writer's pictureClaire Verney

Do you know the 8 Step Timeline in Domestic Abuse Homicides?

With an increase in domestic abuse homicides being reported across the globe, a light is being shed on a crime that in 'normal' times causes the death of 2 women a week in the UK. This post explains the 8 step timeline that typically precedes domestic abuse homicides and how this relates to risk assessment and safety planning.

Recent reporting has fed into the public perception that the recent spike in the number of domestic homicides is due to a rise in one-off incidents brought about by the extraordinary times we are living in. However, emerging research has demonstrated that Restrictions used to minimise the spread of the virus have reinforced environments that aid those behaviours already used by perpetrators to exert power and inflict psychological and physical harm against their partner. Research indicates that abusers used the lockdown to increase their control over victims, escalate abuse and violence and use the pandemic as a tool for continuing abuse. Victims also had fewer opportunities to report abuse and routes to safety, along with much-needed breathing space, were shut down.

It is important that we recognise that the pandemic, lockdowns or any other event do not cause partners to become violent but rather that those who were already abusive have an excuse to attack and abuse more often with victims lacking the ability to access safe spaces and report abuse at an earlier stage. Forensic criminologist and University of Gloucestershire lecturer, Dr Jane Monckton Smith, explained the spike in fatalities during the first lockdown as follows:

“Lockdown means that people who were already controlling and abusing their partners are now even more controlling and volatile. The lockdown has not created abuse, it has just made it more visible and dangerous” - Dr Jane Monckton Smith

The 8 step timeline in domestic homicides

In research published in 2018 Dr Monckton Smith reviewed domestic violence killings in the UK which showed an 8 stage timeline of events before a homicide takes place. To conduct her study, 575 homicide cases involving women killed by men (femicide) were identified using the Counting Dead Women database (Ingala Smith 2018). There were found to be 372 femicide cases from 2012 to 2015 .

Every case was reviewed using published media and homicide reviews to establish the history and circumstances of the homicide, and to identify common and consistent themes. The eight steps that were identified to be present in almost all of the murders studied were:

  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 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 previously had a relationship.

You can download the research in full here

The importance of the 8 stage timeline

The stages identified above are a useful tool that can be used alongside the wealth of research in domestic abuse risk assessment to provide an early warning about cases that require more resources and specialised expertise. In particular, it can aid police, if they know the 8 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.

The research is also helpful in combatting common myths about domestic abuse that are held by the general public including:

A woman should just leave, then she will be safe - It is not always the case that leaving an abusive partner will increase a woman’s safety and research has established that, in many cases, domestic abuse from an intimate partner does not end upon separation. Post-separation can actually see an escalation of abuse with women reporting continued threats and intimidation when leaving their abusive partner as well as an increased risk of homicide. The Femicide census (2018) identified that 41% of women killed by a partner/former partner had separated or taken steps to separate, with 30% killed within the first month and 70% killed within the first year of separation.

Domestic homicide happens because the man 'loses control' - We can see from the timeline that controlling and coercive behaviour underpins the vast majority of domestic homicides, rather than a loss of control the perpetrator is very much in control.

"We've been relying on the 'crime of passion, spontaneous red-mist' explanation [of killing] forever - and it's just not true. If you start looking at all these cases, there's planning, determination, there's always coercive control." - Dr Monckton Smith

If there is no physical violence it can't be that bad - the 8 step timeline highlights the importance of considering all types of abuse rather than just physical violence. Whilst a history of physical violence in a relationship is a strong predictor for future assaults, individual acts of violence rarely occur in isolation and are more usually part of a pattern of ongoing abusive and aggressive behaviour. As demonstrated in the 8 stages it is important to take into account the full range of violence and abuse including controlling behaviour and harassment.

Safety planning

For those families living in a home where domestic abuse is present, it is important that a safety plan is in place. Detailed guidance for social workers on how to complete safety planning with families can be found in our post How to complete safety planning with families. Specialist insight into safety planning for coercive control is contained in our post Coercive control: management and safety planning guidance. These posts can also to be used to aid post-separation safety planning.

Expert insight and guidance to support the work of social workers in keeping children safe from abuse can be found in the post how can children be protected from abuse post-lockdown.

The Coronavirus guidance section of this website gives further assistance on how to help families living with domestic abuse, including; what can be done to help families living in isolation with an abuser and completing emergency safety planning with perpetrators. This section also gives up to date information on how DV-ACT assessments are used to safeguard children in care proceedings.


Monckton Smith, J. (2020). Intimate Partner Femicide: Using Foucauldian Analysis to Track an Eight Stage Progression to Homicide. Violence Against Women, 26(11), 1267–1285.

Helplines and online support

In an emergency always dial 999

If you dial 999 and are unable to speak press 55 and follow the instructions from the operator, find out more here -

Helplines are available in the UK as follows:

National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247

The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428

Action on Elder Abuse helpline: 0808 808 8141

Childline - 0800 1111 you can also go to

NSPCC (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends) - 0808 800 5000 or Contact counsellors 24 hours a day by email or online reporting form

Respect phoneline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040

Online community support - With Abuse Talk you can join the discussion on domestic abuse through a weekly Twitter Chat every Wednesday 8-9pm GMT there is also a forum which is available 24/7 and even houses a solicitor who will answer questions and queries for no charge, and a podcast which delivers a series of interviews with those that work in the domestic abuse sector. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and more.

About us

DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, programmes, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.

DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do. To read more about us please visit our post - Who are DV-ACT?


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