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Characteristics of an abusive partner

Former FBI Profiler Clint Van Zandt: "The finality of our vow of marriage many times includes the phrase, “until death do us part.”  Few understand that this vow can sometimes suggest a lethal form of separation, and the most severe statement about your life that someone so close to you can make. "

The headlines were equally as emotional on both sides of the Atlantic.  A young mother and her infant daughter were murdered, in this case allegedly by the woman’s husband of almost three years and the father of their nine-month-old infant daughter.  At first look mother and child appeared peaceful, the mother lying in bed, her baby girl curled up next to her.  Peaceful, that is, until you noticed they each had bullet entry wounds, evidence of shots that would soon be heard across two nations.

Each year almost three-quarters of a million Americans experience some kind of non-fatal domestic violence.  In the U.S., the number of people involved in emotionally and physically abusive relationships is about eight million.  The decision you make about your partner or spouse will, in part, determine whether you live a life of personal satisfaction and fulfillment or experience years of frustration and fear, emotionally chained to someone who abuses you emotionally and perhaps physically. 

Most relationships begin with an introduction.  One might first take positive notice of the other person, perhaps identifying him or her as someone they’d like to get to know better.  It is at this time that we need to know the warning signs of an abusive individual and use these signs as a kind of personal litmus test as we perhaps consider this person for a long-term relationship.  Knowing the characteristics of such an individual can help you avoid the emotional and physical pain that accompanies an abusive relationship.

A third of all women experience at least one or more physical assaults by a partner, while a smaller but still significant number of men experience similar assaults.  Four women are murdered by an intimate every day in the U.S., while another 600,000 muster up the courage to report that they had been assaulted by a boyfriend or husband, while others suggest that somewhere between two to four million women are actually assaulted by an intimate every year in the U.S.  Women are 10 times more likely than men to be assaulted by a partner or spouse.  Unemployed men are twice as likely to be batterers as those employed full-time.

Most know that members of both sexes can and do bear the emotional scars that are inflected on them by someone who initially professed to care for them.  Therefore your choice of a friend, partner, or spouse is the most important emotional choice you will ever make, one that can have significant long-term consequences if you make the wrong decision.  Every time I have lectured on abusive relationships some women and a few men attending the lecture put their heads down, their eyes welling up as they think about the abuse they have suffered at the hands and in the presence of a significant other.  “If only I had known,” they later tell me.

Most who marry today hold out some hope that they will spend the rest of their life with their spouse, establishing a home, raising children, experiencing the joy of grandchildren, and perhaps dying in bed together some 50+ years later of old age.  Most also realize that upwards of 50% of marriages end in divorce.  Therefore half of us will never realize our marital dreams, at least not with our first spouse.  But we hope, pray, plan, and work toward this goal anyway.  Although some accept the remote possibility that their marriage will not work out, few anticipate that they will be the victim of severe domestic abuse by their spouse.  After all, who would willingly enter into a relationship that endangered you or your children?           

Neil Entwistle met Rachel Souza in England in 1999.  They were married four years later, and their first child, a pretty little girl they named Lillian, was born in 2005.  Their marriage, like that of so many other young couples, seemed wonderful.  Again there were financial challenges, but this is the norm for a young family just starting out in life.  Neil worked in the IT field, selling what proved to be questionable at best and fraudulent at worst software, web sites, and get rich quick schemes.  Money initially came in, but customers quickly caught on to the potentially fraudulent aspect of Neil’s internet activities.  Soon, he found himself tens of thousands of dollars in debt, something he never told his wife and in-laws about.  What he did tell his wife’s parents was that he was employed in some type of secret government job, one he couldn’t talk about.  (He couldn’t talk about it because it didn’t exist.) 

Evidently the pressure of his soon-to-be failed business activities, his marriage, and his responsibilities as a father and as the primary bread winner began to take their toll.  Some in the media report that Neil had recently expressed dissatisfaction with the intimate aspect of his relationship with his wife.  The IT specialist who sold porn sites was soon surfing the net for escort services, a polite way to describe prostitutes for hire.  In fact he allegedly looked up travel directions to just such an escort service a few days before his family was murdered, this as well as instructions on how to kill with a knife.  What finally broke the camel’s back in this case is unknown, probably a combination of personal factors.  But what authorities now appear to believe is that two weeks ago Neil Entwistle took a .22 caliber revolver from his in-law’s house and used that gun to shoot his wife and daughter to death.  He then waited a day before flying to his parent’s home in England.  He has now been charged by Massachusetts authorities for this double homicide and is awaiting extradition to the U.S., probably this week, to face these charges.

Entwistle has told authorities that he had left his wife and daughter at home to run a few errands.  When he returned, both were dead.  He says that he then considered committing suicide with a knife, but thought it would hurt too much so he chose instead to buy a one-way ticket home to England.  He has not suggested who may have murdered his family with a gun obtained from his father-in-law’s home, a gun that Entwistle himself had fired during target practice, a gun whose location was well known to Entwistle, and a gun that has his DNA on the grips and Rachel’s on the muzzle.

We know acts of domestic violence are many times committed by a husband or boyfriend against his female partner. Rachel Entwistle was killed by a gunshot to her head.  A second bullet passed through tiny Lillian’s abdomen and entered her mother’s body.  (This sounds just too clinical, though, to truly convey the awful nature of this crime.)   According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, the United States accounts for 32% of the female population among the 25 highest income countries.  But, ominously, among these 25 nations, the U.S. has 70% of all female homicide victims and 84% of all females killed by a firearm.  This same study confirmed that women are more likely to be killed at home by their spouse, ex-boyfriend, or some other intimate, while men are murdered away from their home.  In the U.S., about two-thirds of the husbands who kill their wives have been drinking, almost 25% have been using drugs, and 12% have a history of mental illness.  Half of all women killed by their husbands are shot, and another 20% are stabbed to death.  Although no one can accurately predict which man or husband will murder his partner or wife, there are signs, characteristics and indicators that should not be overlooked.  These include:

            The Characteristics and Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Spouse or Partner

  1. History of abuse as a child.
  2. History of his/her verbal or physical abuse of parents, family, and friends and even pets.
  3. History of acts of vandalism or other crimes, especially those of violence against others.
  4. Lack of a positive male role model in the home, or the presence of an abusive male or female authority figure in the early or formative years.
  5. Exhibits a violent temper along with poor conflict resolution skills.
  6. Needs always to be in control of situations and those closest to him.
  7. Is usually jealous and may spy on friends and family.
  8. If male, he views and owns pornographic materials and may spend hours on the Internet without allowing you to see what he is into.
  9. Abuses alcohol or exhibits other kinds of substance abuse.                
  10. Has a very low or especially high self-image; if male, a “macho” man, possibly connected to his physical stature, or his educational or professional background or occupation.
  11. Is unable to talk about or discuss his personal feelings.
  12. Insensitive to the feelings of others – he does not feel your pain.
  13. Lies frequently, many times for no apparent reason.
  14. Cannot admit to guilt or responsibility in any situation.

Remember:  Knowing these early warning signs can help you “self-screen or screen out” those who could be abusive in a personal relationship.  Non-abusive individuals may also exhibit some of these characteristics at various points in their lives, but with less frequency, severity, and duration than the truly abusive individual.

The number one cause of death for pregnant women is murder by their unborn’s father.  Additionally, we know that about 75% of domestic homicides occur during or around the time of separation and abandonment.  How Scott Peterson, Neil Entwistle, or others who kill or are accused of killing their spouses may have progressed from loving spouse to believed or convicted killers of their wife and child is unknown.  Anyone who says he or she can accurately predict violent human behavior is being less than honest at best.  No matter what the media tells you, very few people just “snap.”  Indicators of emotional challenges that could lead up to homicidal behavior are usually present to some degree, but are intentionally overlooked, foolishly disregarded, or perhaps simply missed by the victims of spousal homicide.  Who, after all, wants to admit that the person they trust most with their life is the person who may take that same life in a moment of panic, frustration, anger, rage, or calculated stupidity.  No one who marries usually expects to be murdered by the one closest to them.  But for hundreds of women on a yearly basis, the one they trust the most commits the ultimate betrayal. 

The finality of our vow of marriage many times includes the phrase, “until death do us part.”  Few understand that this vow can sometimes suggest a lethal form of separation, and the most severe statement about your life that someone so close to you can make.  If you are considering a new relationship, know the early warning signs of an abuser and avoid him or her like the bird flu.  If you are already in such a relationship, or know someone who is, seek help and assistance.  The abuse will not get better by itself.  It will not go away, and it may even kill you.

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed , a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."