Some questions about the Homicide Timeline

There have been some really great webinars and debates taking place during this lockdown that have kept intimate partner homicide high on the agenda. I have been lucky enough to be part of some of those discussions and it has inspired me to try and give answers to some of the questions that have arisen around the eight stage Homicide Timeline. I am very happy for anyone to pose more questions and to open debate around this very complex issue.

The Timeline talks about controlling and stalking patterns and behaviours. Stalking is not formally defined and when we talk about stalking patterns we are talking about any pattern that includes monitoring, tracking or harassment. When we talk about controlling patterns we mean any behaviour where the ultimate aim is to control the victim. In their more serious form these controlling patterns may reach the bar for Coercive Control.

Question: Can the Homicide Timeline predict which relationships will end in homicide?

Answer: In a word no. The issues are far too complex and various for any simple predictive test. The Homicide Timeline is a complex pattern put into a simple sequence that can show how and why risk may be escalating. There are different types of domestic abuse, and not all types are motivated by control. The Timeline is based on a type of domestic abuse that is motivated by a need to control a partner. The type of abuse that most frequently ends in homicide is the controlling type that in its more extreme form is known as Coercive Control (this pattern is criminalised in the UK and Ireland). The Timeline tracks a journey that suggests it is challenges to control that can trigger an escalation in risk that can escalate to homicide. Most cases of domestic abuse, as we know, do not end in homicide. The Timeline helps show how and why risk of homicide may escalate. If we can recognise high risk patterns we can better recognise when things are escalating.

Question: you have said that you have found stalking in over 90% of intimate partner homicides, this seems really high.

Answer: Yes, that is a very high number, and when we looked at these cases we were clear that we defined stalking as any monitoring or tracking of the victim. Monitoring or tracking is unfortunately very common now – especially as social media and electronic devices like phones make monitoring very easy, and almost normalised. I am not surprised at all that someone who is controlling would check up on their partner’s texts, Facebook posts, Instagram and so on. It would probably be more unusual if a controlling person did not bother to check on their partner’s activities. We actually found in many cases we look at and discuss, that checking someone’s phone and using GPS tracking apps like Life 360 are common. We also found that covert recording devices were more common than people think, and stealth software downloaded onto victim’s phones and computers was more common than we think.

Here is a picture of some very affordable monitoring devices available widely that a student brought in to show me.

Monitoring is very commonplace now and so normalised – and that is why the number we quote is so high. Some of my students have looked at tracking and monitoring in research projects and have found that most young people routinely check up on their partners, and on others. They also found that even when people felt the monitoring and tracking was wrong, and could be considered by themselves as stalking, they still continued. Some of this is the normalisation of monitoring, and also the ease with which it can be done.

Question: does the Timeline apply to all forms of domestic homicide?

Answer: No. We only looked at intimate partner homicides. So we did not include inter-familial cases, like for example parricides (murder of parents) or other familial relationships. So this Timeline applies only to intimate partner relationships. We did find some interesting parallels with Honour Based Violence, but did not include those cases in our sample. Conversations we have had since with experts in that area do suggest that control and challenges to control are relevant in Honour Based homicides too. We also excluded all homicides where there was clear mental illness or psychosis.

Question: are all perpetrators the same?

Answer: absolutely not. Controlling people are diverse and different. Victims are diverse and different, so individual cases will vary in the methods used to control and abuse. Some will be very violent, some will not be violent at all. Some will be openly controlling, some will be more manipulative and underhand. Some will be quiet, some will be more extroverted. What we found was – it is the motivation for the behaviours that is more consistent than the behaviours themselves. However, research has shown us that some behaviours are more commonly present in high risk abuse and it is these behaviours that we will see on tools like DASH and DARA.

Question: How does the Timeline work with Risk Identification tools like DASH or DARA?

Answer: Risk checklists like DASH or DARA are crucial in gathering the information we need to inform a risk assessment and to be able to use the Timeline effectively. They work very well together. On the DASH for example you will ask questions about history, and you will ask about separation or other challenging events. Both these questions help inform the timeline journey. The Timeline can help organise the crucial information gathered in a risk interview.

Question: How many perpetrators of coercive control, domestic abuse or intimate partner stalking will progress through all eight stages?

Answer: Most will not progress through all eight stages. We found that nearly all controlling domestic abuse perpetrators will be on the timeline somewhere. Most stay at stage 3 or end at stage 5 when a relationship ends. It is the minority that progress further onto stage 6 and beyond, and they are the most dangerous. We know that there is far more domestic abuse than there are homicides. So we feel it is important to be watching for those cases that go beyond stage five. But even in these cases homicide is not inevitable, they can potentially be stopped at any stage – even stage 8. That’s the really positive message – it is not inevitable, especially if we can recognise where things are progressing closer to stage 8.

Question: How does the Timeline help with homicide prevention?

Answer: we have found that using the Timeline as a model for understanding the motivation behind a behaviour can help us understand how risk may escalate. So if someone is violent, we ask ‘is the motivation for that violence to maintain control?’ If someone uses jealousy and possessiveness to stop their partner talking to people or socialising, we ask ‘is the motivation to have control over them?’ We found it may be helpful to think about the motivation behind behaviours rather than look only for specific behaviours and rule out others. If we look at behaviours that are controlling – and that could be all manner of things (financial, sexual or psychological abuse for example) – we may be able to expand our understanding of risk.

This can help us think of prevention activities at any stage of the Timeline. Prevention activities at Stage one would be different from those at stage six. For example, stage one (history of controlling patterns or stalking) may suggest that a register may help track some offenders. Stage two (early relationship) may suggest that education around relationships, jealousy and possessiveness would be helpful. The prevention opportunities are best developed by those people knowledgeable about each stage. These are just simple examples.

Question: Do we have to use the Homicide Timeline?

Answer: No, the timeline is another tool in the box for us to think about risk and homicide. There is so much great research and knowledge out there, and we need all we can get. I hope that the Timeline helps people understand how risk might escalate, and why controlling people may become more volatile.

Question: what other sources may be helpful?

Answer: have a look at the following for interesting information:

Stalking Risk Profile. https://www.stalkingriskprofile.com

Coercive Control: How men entrap women in personal https://www.amazon.co.uk/Coercive-Control-Personal-Interpersonal-Violence/dp/0195384040

Femicide Census. https://femicidescensus.org

AAFDA: https://aafda.org.uk

DASH: https://www.dashriskchecklist.co.uk

UN Global Report on Femicide. Https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/gsh/Booklet_5.pdf

Also you will find lots of information about Stalking, Coercive Control and Domestic Abuse on websites from Women’s Aid; SafeLives; Suzy Lamplugh Trust; Paladin; Hollie Gazzard Trust; Alice Ruggles Trust; SUTDA and many more.

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