Mouvement pour l'Égalité entre les Femmes et les Hommes

Conference on forced suicide, a consequence of control in the context of domestic violence

Return to main page


On June 21, 2022, we organized a conference dedicated to the notion of forced suicide. Among the consequences of domestic violence and the psychological influence that operates there, it is the victim’s final act to free herself from it. In Brussels, we were able to hear in this conference the speakers Claire Stappaerts, Aude Poncette, Yaël Mellul, Josiance Coruzzi, Anita Biondo, Nadia Laouar and Donatienne Portugaels, dealing with the subject of domestic violence. On this page you will find the presentations, a summary of the different interventions, as well as the videos of this afternoon.

The presentations

Investigation into domestic violence and suicidal risk for the victim

Aude Poncette presented to us the survey carried out by the Movement for Equality between Women and Men aimed at showing the link between domestic violence and the risk of suicide on the victim’s side. Different aspects of domestic violence were measured using an online questionnaire. The preliminary results of this investigation tell us that domestic violence involves a significant increase in the risk of suicide, among other consequences for the victim.

Definition of forced suicide, consequence of psychological control in the couple

Yaël Mellul, actress in the recognition of forced suicide in France, gave us a definition of this notion. This is essential as the victims of this scourge are still invisible today, due to ignorance of the phenomenon.

Psychological influence in the couple: definition and consequences

It is impossible to talk about forced suicide without recalling the importance of the psychological influence in the couple where the violence takes place. Control, this phenomenon of colonization of the other, is at the root of all violence. In domestic violence, the victim will be dispossessed of everything that makes up their identity. Sometimes compared to brainwashing, psychological control consists of a psychological preparation of the victim to accept the unacceptable. It will start with the relatively short honeymoon. After which the first micro-violences will arrive, and in particular a process of isolation. The attacker wants the victim to think that what they are experiencing is normal, and even to feel responsible for it. Thus, many victims do not leave at the time of the first physical violence, since their capacities of judgment, their free will, have been altered. Psychological violence is also cited by victims as having destroyed them more than physical violence. The consequences of this violence are numerous: post-traumatic stress syndrome, addictions, depression, risky behavior, loss of employment, suicide attempts, etc. It is when the victim will be entirely at the mercy of their attacker, synonymous with total control, without any outside perspective, when they have not been heard, they will consider the only solution to extricate themselves from this confinement, to regain possession of one’s being, the passage to the suicidal act.

Modus operandi of forced suicide

The modus operandi of forced suicide is strongly similar to that of femicide. In the majority of cases, the passage to the suicidal act occurs after the separation, or after the victim has expressed his desire to leave the aggressor. The latter, unable to bear being dispossessed of his “object”, will induce a scene of paroxysmal violence, concentrating the worst insults, the most terrible denigrations, the most atrocious humiliations, etc. The victim will find themselves in unbearable suffering and will end their life within a few minutes, at most a few hours, after this scene of ultimate violence. This scene which ends a life of violence.


It is therefore necessary to establish proof by psychological autopsy of the violence and its deleterious impact on the victim during the relationship, and of the fact that the last scene of violence led to the passage to the suicidal act.


Today in France, moral harassment leading to the suicide attempt or suicide of the victim is punishable by 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of €150,000 according to the law of July 30, 2020.

The phenomenon of control and the process of marital domination

Josiane Coruzzi, lawyer, director of women’s solidarity and shelter for women victims of violence and trainer specializing in domestic violence, has been meeting women victims for more than 40 years.

Defining domestic violence

We must clearly differentiate domestic violence from disputes, even asymmetrical ones, between partners. The phenomenon that concerns us is linked to the patriarchal context of our society, and it is necessary to recognize it in order to believe, and thus be able to help, the victims. We must not believe that arguments are the basis of this violence, that mediation and accountability of the two protagonists would be enough to make it stop, or that it ends at the time of separation. 


To define domestic violence, there is a limit to characterizing it by its manifestations. The author’s intention makes it possible to delimit what corresponds to domestic violence or not. The intention of the perpetrator of violence within the couple is to gain control over the other and power in the relationship. Belgium has also chosen to include this will of the aggressor in its definition. We then speak of influence, or its synonym, coercive control.



We can identify in the case of domestic violence: the justifications of the perpetrator for example, or the behavior of the victim in the face of arguments, which she tries to avoid.

Coercive control, synonymous with psychological control: definition and signs

Psychological control is detectable by several insidious signs; the process of domination takes place through the cycle of domestic violence. When two people become a couple, they enter into a secure relationship. So that for whatever reason, one of the two wants to set up a relationship that suits them, that is to say in which they have control. This happens gradually, first through tensioning strategies. The goal of these strategies is for the partner to decenter herself to focus on the needs of the dominant partner. Gradually, she becomes hypervigilant and finds herself in a situation of continual stress where she cedes more and more of her freedoms, in the name of love. These strategies will be present throughout the relationship. The first physical violence arrives like a crisis, which falsely appears like a clap of thunder in a serene sky, yet already synonymous with control. This crisis occurs because the violent spouse realizes at a given moment that he does not have the control he would like; his objective is to restore domination. It is after this crisis that the justifications and minimizations arrive, always against the partner (“if you hadn’t…”). Active reconciliation strategies follow, after which the honeymoon phase returns. It is a circle that rotates indefinitely depending on the state of satisfaction of the dominant, with the tension of the victim as a backdrop.



Most victims of domestic violence begin by resisting, by counter-powering. The problem is that when faced with the controller, this leads to escalation, producing violence. Many victims abandon resistance and fall into subordination. Victims are very active in order to minimize partner violence as much as possible. At first it is love that motivates, then increasingly constraint and fear. Additionally, since the cycle does not stop despite the victim’s efforts, they will fall into what is called learned helplessness. This stage leads to suicide as the choice as well as the impression of choice completely disappears.

Police intervention in situations of domestic violence

Anita Biondo, a leading police officer in the fight against incest, talks to us about police intervention in the context of domestic violence.

Development of handling of domestic violence by the police ​

It is necessary to put police intervention into perspective, particularly with regard to victims. In fact, supporting victims has only been a police function since 2001. Since then, there has been a victim support service in all police zones.


Victims of domestic violence have special needs. The prosecution thus requests detailed hearings, a visit to the doctor, to ensure calm when leaving the premises. A recent circular also requires the police to use a risk assessment tool. This tool addresses the issue of the victim’s suicidal risk, but it would be interesting to make it more specific in order to obtain a real assessment of the risk of forced suicide, in the same way as that of femicide. The second circular is that of revisiting. This is mainly managed by telephone, with a visit to the premises in the event of a still problematic situation. The question arises as to whether the calm appearing during this call is real or whether it is the honeymoon phase, or whether the violence continues but goes under the radar because it is less significant. The temporary interruption of residence is a final circular. However, this was abandoned due to a significant surplus of work for the floor.



For the measures to be correctly applied, police training is necessary. Information sessions are therefore organized when new circulars are released. Other training exists within and outside the police for those who wish.



EVA (Emergency Victim Assistance) cells are made up of police officers specialized in caring for victims of domestic violence and sexual violence. Meetings are possible by appointment or urgently. There are currently two police zones in Brussels.



The center of attention slowly shifts from the perpetrator to the victim. There is also a center for handling domestic violence, the Family Justice Center. Thus, we should not entertain a pessimistic view of the police in the treatment of domestic violence. On the contrary, the path is taken in the right direction.

The treatment of cases of suicide linked to psychological influence in the couple

Regarding the specific issue of forced suicide, the concept is still relatively little known. Indeed, in cases of suicide, the police intervene mainly to rule out the presence of third parties in the facts. Generally, no physical autopsy, let alone psychological, is used. However, a German study shows that after in-depth investigation, 70% of natural deaths are not really natural deaths. The problem is that of insufficient means to investigate all the deaths.

Discussion with a representative of the public prosecutor

Nadia Laouar is deputy attorney general and coordinator of the network of expertise in crime against persons at the Liège public prosecutor’s office.

Means of justice in the fight against domestic violence in law

In the fight against gender-based violence, tools exist at the level of the college of attorneys general. Col (circular of the attorneys general) 4 2006 requires a systematic, rapid and situation-appropriate reaction, with a multidisciplinary view, in matters of violence within the couple. The protection of victims has been accentuated with col 15 2020 which establishes the front-line assessment tool. This tool makes it possible to identify the situations most at risk of taking a major action. Col 20 2020, again, generalizes the practice of revisiting.


The notion of forced suicide does not currently exist in Belgian law. However, certain offenses can be mobilized in cases where a suicide has occurred. An example is that of a case where the court upheld the offenses of harassment, degrading treatment and involuntary manslaughter. The associated penalties are nevertheless limited to 2 years of imprisonment. We could then focus on the offense of inhuman treatment, with the need to demonstrate the intentionality of the perpetrator having caused particular suffering to the victim.


The idea of considering an aggravating circumstance to harassment, like France, remains interesting.

There are already two aggravating circumstances for this offense: the discriminatory motive, as well as the vulnerability of the victim. It could be useful to mobilize the first in cases of domestic violence, always with this problem linked to proof.

Training of magistrates on the signs of psychological control and the cycle of domestic violence

Since 10% of the cases handled relate to domestic violence, a certain number of magistrates are already trained. Mandatory training is also required today on this issue.

In order to raise awareness of the notion of forced suicide, justice may have to dig deeper into cases of suicide in a context of domestic violence. Currently, the priority is to rule out the intervention of a third party in practice.

In the case of civil cases, concerning for example child custody, work is done to avoid the stigmatization of women who can be judged too easily fragile following psychiatric hospitalizations and/or suicide attempts, then that they may have experienced domestic violence.

Figures for forced suicides in Belgium, France and Europe

Yaël Mellul presented us with an estimate of the number of forced suicides in Europe. No figures exist concerning suicides linked to domestic violence, apart from those of four studies. The latter (UK, FR, USA) show that 11 to 13% of deaths by suicide or suicide attempts are attributable to domestic violence, synonymous with control within the couple. The Psytel committee therefore relied on these by postulating the same distribution of causes between suicides and suicide attempts. Using the most conservative limit as well as Eurostat 2017 data on female suicides in Europe, the figures obtained are 52 forced suicides in Belgium, 209 in France and 1136 for the European Union. In France, there are approximately twice as many forced suicides as feminicides, with a low estimate.

I subscribe to the Newsletter

*Files required