Why didn’t she leave?
Why wasn’t there an arrest?
We didn’t see anything wrong; they seemed like the perfect couple.
These are the statements people often make when they learn about an abusive relationship, especially when one ends in homicide. Assumptions about domestic violence are rife in modern society. We tend to armchair quarterback others’ relationships instead of taking the time to understand the dynamics of and patterns within domestic violence.
Jane Monckton Smith, a Professor of Public Protection in the UK, has written In Control: Dangerous Relationships and How They End in Murder. You may have seen Professor Monckton Smith being interviewed on crime shows or have read her other books. This book, however, should be required reading for humanity.
Monckton Smith takes readers through eight easy-to-understand stages of how domestic violence progresses to homicide. She offers examples from her own career that are relatable and straightforward. Many can see their own tendencies, or that of someone they know, in the people she has studied and interviewed.
By the end of this book, you might be stunned by how simple, how logical, how obvious these eight stages are. Using the eight stages as a template, you can set that template on nearly any deadly domestic situation and see how closely it fits. All of us, with rare exception, are very familiar with deadly relationships thanks to the media, so this can be used as a tool to understand what has actually happened.
I firmly agree with Monckton Smith that people don’t “just lose it,” one of the premises of this book. That is a myth. The “crime of passion” theory, that someone was murdered in the heat of the moment, is a convenient go-to explanation, sometimes used so that we don’t have to deal with the gruesome reality of the buildup and outcome. As she explains, long before the murder there is a devaluing of the victim and decisions are made by the killer that culminate in the taking of a human life.
Monckton Smith is also wise to point out the erroneous judgments society makes against the victims. She has great empathy for why victims are trapped in dangerous relationships and why they can’t usually “just leave.” We always seem to ask this after someone is hurt or dead, “why didn’t she just leave?” At one point in the book she asks, “why didn’t he leave?” He (or she) had the freedom to leave at any time: they had the means, the freedom, the income, the ability to exit safely, not the victim.
This statement– why didn’t he leave– nails what domestic violence is all about: power and control. Abusers don’t want to give up power and control. This is why the risk of homicide goes up so dramatically when a victim tries to leave an abusive relationship; the abuser still wants control. Some abusers are so desperate to retain control that they are willing to kill their partner, spouse, and even their own children so that they “win.”
The author features interviews with actual murderers in this book to show that power and control takes different forms. Others may see the “nice guy,” the “quiet recluse,” the “violent drunk,” or the “jilted lover.” These killers may present as something entirely opposite of who they are. Thanks to her experiences in policing in particular, she looks deeper, finding that yes, regardless of how different these killers are, they still progressed through the stages that lead to homicide.
Beneath different personalities, beneath different MOs, beneath different situations and circumstances, Monckton Smith identifies an often insidious progression that leads from alleged love to cold, calculated death. Its presence in so many different cases is eerie and unsettling. Yet if we would simply educate people about it, it would be so much more obvious to all when it occurs. We would be able to stop the fatal progression and save lives.
We should be educating children about domestic violence. Teens should absolutely know the warning signs of a controlling relationship. They should also know how and where to get help. Imagine if we made In Control required reading in high schools, if we actually sent young people into adulthood with a functional knowledge of what constitutes a healthy relationship and what does not. Many of us had no clue. But with a book like this, there are no more excuses.
As a side note, there are references in this book to the UK’s legal system and police forces that Americans may be unfamiliar with. You should be able to figure them out quickly, and Monckton Smith does explain some of them.
Overall, please consider sharing In Control with your local schools, shelters, advocates, police forces, libraries, and especially churches. Churches sometimes have a particular naivete about this progression to death, blaming and shaming victims instead. It’s time that we all know this, we all use this, and we stop letting these eight stages run their course until they culminate in murder.
No more excuses. There aren’t any more excuses with a book like this available.
©2022 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com