How to spot a perpetrator

With one in four women suffering domestic abuse at some point in their lives, many of these being repeat survivors, it can be helpful to be aware of the patterns of behaviour we need to be wary of.

Domestic abuse has a devastating impact on survivors, the effects are often felt long after the relationship has ended.

Not only can women educate themselves, so they are less vulnerable to the advances of an abuser, but we can also prepare our daughters, so they are more able to protect themselves too.

The White Ribbon UK Lockdown Toolkit is available to provide practical suggestions and show where to get help for men who are worried about their behaviour during lockdown, and men who are concerned about the behaviour of their friends and colleagues.

Who can a perpetrator be?

Perpetrators of abuse span all social classes, age groups and ethnic backgrounds, however there are several patterns of behaviour they will commonly exhibit from very early on in the relationship. If we are aware of these common traits, tread cautiously, listen to our intuition and are prepared to back out fast, there is much we can do to protect ourselves from becoming prey to an abuser.


A very common trait in perpetrators of abuse. It is often displayed early on so it’s as well to be perceptive to the very first signs.

At the start of a relationship, the abuser will equate jealousy with love. When women are not familiar with displays of jealousy, this behaviour can seem very appealing and attractive to them. Jealousy can make a woman feel special, that the man wants her so badly, he wants to spend all his time with her to the exclusion of everyone else.

The abuser may accuse the woman of flirting, monitor who she speaks to, call her frequently during the day, drop by her workplace unexpectedly. He may also check her car mileage, control what she wears and ask friends to watch her. Behaviour like this that might initially appear as deep love, will invariably escalate to more serious and overt abuse that can include locking the survivor in the house or electronically tracking all her movements.

Controlling behaviour

This is closely related to jealousy. Like jealousy, this behaviour can also be appealing to women in the early stages, especially as it’s often dressed up as concern for her welfare. The perpetrator may insist on accompanying the survivor everywhere and explaining he only wants to keep her safe. He may take control of her finances purporting he wants to spare her the trouble. He may choose her clothes telling her he knows what suits her best. As this behaviour progresses, the situation will worsen, often to the point where women’s lives are massively restricted, and they can make very few choices.

Fast tracked love

Perpetrators of abuse will commonly fast track the early stages of a relationship. They want to encourage the women to fall for them as quickly as possible, a woman in love is more vulnerable. They do this by gushing gestures of adoration and expressions of love. They do everything possible to seem indispensable to the woman and encourage her to believe they were meant to be together.

This behaviour is highly flattering, it makes women feel special and this means they are likely to reciprocate the love and adoration. This fast-tracked love is often fake. The gestures insincere and intended to make the woman fall in love as fast as possible. Perpetrators of abuse want this because once in love, women will more likely put up with abusive behaviour. She’ll also be very confused and however bad the abuse gets, she’ll keep remembering the early days when he showered her with adoration and she’ll hang on in there believing things will get better. They rarely do. Abusive men fast track the early stages, so they can quicker get to the point that they enjoy, being abusive.


This behaviour can seem flattering at first, he claims to be so in love with her that he wants her all to himself. He may suggest a whole weekend in bed and cancel arrangements with family and friends because he only wants to be with her.

As time progresses, the isolation tactics become more overtly abusive and can progress to threatening her about making social contacts or being openly hostile to her family when they visit. Abusive men do this for several reasons. Isolation in itself is a form of abuse and perpetrators enjoy women being unhappy. Women are more vulnerable when isolated and less likely to report abuse. Also, without a frame of reference that comes from others, the survivor is less likely to identify her situation as abuse and although she will feel desperately unhappy, may be confused as to why, often imagining it must be her fault.

Unhappy childhood

Disclosures of bad childhoods and difficult pasts will illicit sympathy in women who may be motivated to try harder to make the relationship work and be more understanding and tolerant of poor behaviour. Abusive men often have troubled childhoods and early past experiences, this may be part of the reason they became abusers. Women need to remember that it’s not their fault he was abused as a child, and it’s not likely she can do anything to repair that damage.

When abusers go too far, they’ll often remind women about their terrible pasts and guilt trip women for being just another person giving up on them. Abusers are good at emotional blackmail and women in this situation are often conflicted and confused enough to continue with the relationship despite the abuse.

Blames others for their feelings or problems

Abusive men will blame others and most often the survivor for their own mistakes, problems and how they feel. Abusers are skilled at coercion and manipulation. In the early stages, he may tell the survivor he’s upset because she’s not spending enough time with him, she’s going out with her girlfriends when she knows how much he’s been missing her. These comments make women feel that his distress is her fault. This manipulative blame will escalate as the relationship progresses.

Some phrases you hear might sound like: “You were flirting so you made me hit you.” or “You wouldn’t have sex, so I had to find someone else.”

It’s very easy for the survivor to believe it’s her fault as this will make more sense in the early stages. The alternative would be to acknowledge this man she’d fallen in love with is a monster. Instead, she’ll tell herself she just needs to try harder, and give him more attention and love and things will be fine again.

Hypersensitivity to personal attack

Abusive men are easily insulted and offended, perceiving the slightest thing as a personal attack. Women may tell themselves to be more sensitive and show more consideration towards his feelings. His sensitivity might seem appealing initially.

Linked with this is an inability to apologise, women often find themselves apologising for his mistakes, anticipating they will be blamed anyway. Of course, abusive men will sometimes apologise to try to recover the situation when they know they’ve gone too far with their abuse, but when he’s seemingly unable to apologise for the little things, this should be seen as a red flag in any relationship.

Seek help if you’re unsure

Worryingly many of these traits are often so appealing to women. That’s why it’s so important we are aware of them and actively look out for them to avoid being seduced by them and drawn in.

The earlier women can walk away from an abusive relationship, the easier this will be and the less damage they will be caused.

The start of a potential relationship is a time when women need to have their wits about them. At this time, it really is essential to use your head, your instincts, listen to the opinions of friends and family and be prepared to bail out fast.

If you are a man and are worried about your behaviour during lockdown, or are concerned about the behaviour of your friends or colleagues, take a look at the White Ribbon UK toolkit below:

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or are affected by past domestic abuse, we are here to help you. You can contact us on or call our support line on 01773 719111.