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The Watts’ Family Murders: 4 Warning Signs of Domestic Violence

One of the top trending features on Netflix, American Murder: The Family Next Door, is a documentary shedding light on the growing issue of domestic violence. Classified as a “familicide”, Chris Watts was charged in the murder of his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and their two daughters, Celeste and Bella Watts.  

Seemingly to the public, Chris and Shannan had a successful marriage, but behind the scenes, their marriage was crumbling. Domestic violence is incredibly common, with 1 in 4 women experiencing it throughout their lifetime. It’s hard to predict, but sometimes there are warning signs. Here are four warning signs of domestic violence to look out for in intimate partner relationships. 


1. Past history of violence  

This could be domestic/intimate partner violence or any type of violence. Commonly those who are considered abusive have had a history of violence in their past, whether it be towards adults, children, or even animals. Not everyone with a history of violence repeats it, but it is a recurring theme. 


2. Controlling behaviours 

Controlling what their partner wears, where they go, who they are friends with, etc; all of these behaviours are considered emotionally abusive and are telltale signs of potential or future physical/sexual violence. 


3. Threatening 

Somebody who is abused by their partner may be threatened in order to scare them into staying with the abuser. Examples include threatening physical violence towards the victim, or the abuser threatening to hurt themselves. 


4. Cheating/infidelity 

Commonly abusers will cheat on their partners. This can be seen in the case of the Watts’ family murders, where Chris was having an affair.  


Spoiler alert: Chris Watts has been charged with five life sentences in prison, without the possibility of parole. He was also charged with 36 years for three counts of tampering with a deceased body, and 48 years for the unlawful termination of Shanann’s pregnancy. 

Femicide and familicide are well-known issues in many different countries, but it happens everywhere, including the US and Canada. In Canada, a woman is killed every six days by her intimate partner. Unfortunately, as per the case with Shanann Watts, there were limited warning signs leading to suspected domestic violence.  

As students at the University of Guelph, we have many resources available for Domestic/Intimate Partner Violence. For resources please visit www.uoguelph.ca/sexualviolence/resources

Sydney is a first-year graduate student at the University of Guelph. She has a strong interest in neuroscience, reproductive biology, and veterinary medicine. Her articles consist of a variety of topics, most notably feminism and sexual/domestic violence awareness.
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