There are eight steps to murder, eight stages which lead to the death of a woman at the hands of her partner. This year alone in Australia, we know 36 women have died violently.
In most cases, we don't know yet who killed them. But new research might well stop killers in their tracks because Jane Monckton Smith is on to them.
She's been researching violence against women for 30 years and has now completed a forensic analysis of more than 370 murders by men of women. I really mean forensic. She is a forensic criminologist at the University of Gloucestershire and for the last three years, she has been through every single case of femicide by an intimate partner, looking for some kind of pattern, signs that might make it possible to predict who will end up dead at the hands of a current former partner. Now she's found that pattern and has just published her findings in the academic journal Violence Against Women.
She has one key tip. If your new boyfriend is superattentive and tells you about his previous 'psycho' girlfriend, that's a warning to get out ASAP. It's a sign he doesn't take responsibility for his actions when difficulties arise in a relationship.
Monckton Smith used the data from Counting Dead Women UK, a real time list of murders at the hands of men in the United Kingdom and the prototype of counts now run all over the world, including in Australia. Then the academic sifted through the data looking for differences and finding astonishing similarities. The eight steps she discovered in almost all of the killings she studied were clear.
- The perpetrator has a history of stalking or abuse in previous relationships. That holds true except for those in the dataset in first-time relationships
- The relationship develops very quickly. The perpetrator is looking for commitment and that really means, in his eyes, forever. God forbid you should want forever to end.
- The perpetrator starts to exert controlling behaviours. Where are you? What are you doing? Who did you speak to today? Who are those text messages from?
- An event or discussion challenges the perpetrator's control - the woman may decide she wants to end the relationship or the perpetrator experiences some personal difficulties such as job loss, which leads to an abrupt change in his circumstance
- Escalation - the perpetrator tries to reassert control by increasing intensity, frequency of contact, stalking, threatening suicide. To the perpetrator who wants control, it's about getting "his woman" back and diminishing any challenge to his status.
- By now, the relationship is dangerous. If the woman is lucky, the perpetrator leaves and she will then be described as the most recent "psycho" girlfriend. Or he might try to exact revenge. The worst case is when he starts considering murder as an option.
- Planning homicide - buying weapons, making opportunities to get the victim on her own
- Homicide - which may not be limited to the woman but also include her children.
Eight steps. So clear and so well set-out in a conversation which is - still - largely about victim-blaming. Monckton Smith's analysis makes it clear that women are not to blame for their murders. It's men who want control. But it took writing her book In Control (to be released next year by Bloomsbury) and chatting to her daughter when they both realised that the daughter's partner was exhibiting some of these characteristics.
Now Monckton Smith says the most troubling sign to her is stage two, when a man is trying to gain forever commitment at a very early stage. Is it romance or is it a sign that there is something more sinister at play? Is this about being in control?
One thing that had shocked me in the beginning was the amount of planning that goes into these homicides. They are not spontaneous.Jane Monckton Smith
This work comes after decades of research. She began her career as a police officer in the eighties and then started to work as an advocate for the families of victims of homicide to help them through the criminal justice system. It was the constant conversation around the way in which women were blamed for their own deaths which really sparkled her desire to change the way we walk about fatal violence against women. It's not an accident or a spur of the moment act of a man in a rage
"One thing that had shocked me in the beginning was the amount of planning that goes into these homicides. They are not spontaneous. It was only when I started going through all the cases it became clear - once I could look at what happened before the relationship, during the relationship and after the relationship, I started to develop a nuanced picture of what was going on in the minds of the perpetrators."
Monckton Smith spent years in the minds of killers to find ways to stop the murders - there are around the world, about 30,000 women killed by the partners each year.
And maybe now we see the road map to homicide we can build stop signs along the way.
"We've seen homicide averted. At every stage you can intervene. That is an opportunity to save a life, an opportunity to get yourself out."
- Jenna Price is a regular columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.