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From the file

Hidden Homicides | How many women are killed – but not counted?

Further reading

Further reading

This week’s File on Hidden Homicides is just the start for Tortoise: we are going to keep investigating, scrutinising the data and calling for change in the way that domestic abuse is policed. If you also want to join us as we dig deeper, here are some resources to get you started…

Find out more about the women and the families from the podcast

Coercive control

Coercive control a pattern of coercive, controlling, threatening and often humiliating behaviour that can isolate a person and make them feel like they have no autonomy. The psychological impact of coercive control cannot be underestimated, but it can be difficult to see from the outside – and difficult to prove. It’s also considered a precursor to escalating violence and homicide. 

  • Coercive control is now a criminal offence across the UK and Ireland, although it’s a relatively recent development and – broadly speaking – prosecution rates are low. Read more about the countries pushing ahead and criminalising coercive control in this Time article from 2019.
  • Watch the BBC Three social experiment, Is This Coercive Control? The programme shows how insidious coercive controlling behaviour can be and how difficult it can be to understand. 
  • Read about Kellie Sutton, a mum of three who took her own life in 2017 after months of abuse from her partner. In a landmark case her partner was jailed for coercive control and assault and a coroner ruled that he contributed to her death.
  • It’s important to recognise how broad the experience of coercive control and domestic abuse is: it can happen to anyone and everyone. But as this gal-dem piece explains, institutional discrimination can discourage ethnic minorities in particular from reporting their experience or seeking support. In the worst cases, this can mean that the evidence to support a conviction in the case of a homicide is even harder to find. 
  • Read a first-person account from a survivor of coercive control about the societal assumptions around domestic abusers.

The above gal-dem piece also flags how crucial it is to talk about and recognise the early signs of abuse. Many of the families we spoke to for this project highlighted the importance of better education around coercive control – for first responders, service providers and society as a whole.


  • Watch this short video where Professor Jane Monckton Smith explains her research into the 8 Stages to Domestic Homicide. The stages are also set out and explained here, and you can find a wide list of Jane’s research on her university webpage.
  • Domestic abuse and coercive control training for police in England and Wales are not compulsory after officers are fully qualified. The charity SafeLives runs DA Matters, an extensive and in-depth programme that trains police and first responders and aims to change the cultural approach to domestic abuse within a police force. Research by Professor Iain Brennan shows that the programme has led to a 41 per cent increase in arrests for controlling and coercive behaviour.
  • Society’s most vulnerable people are also those who are at most risk of becoming hidden homicides – something that we are committed to investigating further. Start by reading Hannah Bows’ research into hidden homicides among the elderly, and Southall Black Sisters’ research paper into how Domestic Abuse Bill could impact migrant women or women with insecure immigration status. 
  • The organisation Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse, or Aafda, is currently campaigning for non-fatal strangulation to be included as a stand alone crime in the Domestic Abuse Bill. Read more about non-fatal strangulation as a domestic homicide risk factor

Places to turn

  • Aafda provides specialist and expert advice for families after the homicide or suicide of a family member or friend, following domestic abuse. 
  • Imkaan is a UK-based, Black feminist organisation dedicated to addressing violence against women and girls from Black and minority ethnic communities. Their website includes resources for women who face increased barriers to support, including migrant women and women with no recourse to public funds.
  • Galop is an LGBT+ anti-violence charity which is a safe space for people of any sexual orientation and gender identity. You can find information about domestic abuse, including a helpline and a survivors forum, here.  
  • If you are worried about yourself or a loved one you can contact the national domestic abuse helpline. It’s free and available 24 hours a day.

How can you help?

It’s a national scandal that domestic abuse deaths are going uninvestigated and uncounted. Help us bring it into light by contacting your MP and asking them to support our calls to action. You can find out more about our campaign here.

You can find your MP’s contact details here. Thank you.