Familial Homicide-Suicide in European Countries / The European Homicide-Suicide Study (EHSS)

Psychological and Sociological Analysis of a Rare Form of Domestic Violence

Homicides followed by the suicide of the perpetrator (hereafter HS) are a rare yet very serious form of interpersonal violence which occurs mainly in partnerships and families. There has been very little systematic research on HS. The aim of the study is to collect total samples of HS in Germany and other European countries (Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Poland, England & Wales, Switzerland) for a period of 10 years backwards from newspaper archives and official sources and to combine a micro-level, psychological approach with a macro-level, sociological approach in the analysis of this data. The psychological approach will include in-depth interviews with surviving perpetrators of HS about the context, antecedence and personality dimensions of these events. The macro-level part focuses on social contexts and norms which increase the likelihood of HS events, following Durkheim’s idea that some forms of violence are fostered by ‘too much’ social integration and a prevalence of collectivist spirits.

Please see also the more extensive EHSS website!

This project is closely related to a project on honour killings in Germany.
Project category: Research project
Organisational status: Departmental project
Project time frame: Beginning of project: 2006
End of project: 2014
Status of Project: inactive
Project language(s): English; German

Head(s) of project

Contributors / Researchers

  • Dipl.-Psych. Felipe Montiel (until 14 January 2012)
  • Dipl.-Psych. Bianca Lafrenz (until 15 May 2010)

Homicides followed by the suicide of the perpetrator (hereafter HS) are a rare yet very serious form of interpersonal violence which occurs mainly in partnerships and families. As HS are not recorded in official crime statistics, in most countries not even the yearly number of cases and victims is known. Epidemiological studies pursued in some countries have estimated the HS rate (per 1 million total population) as 2-3 in the USA, 1.5 in Finland, 1.0 in Australia and 0.6 in England & Wales. The relative share of HS of all homicides tends to be higher in countries with a low overall homicide rate, and lower in countries with a high overall homicide rate. Many lethal cases of violence within intimate partnerships and families are HS, especially involving children.
By definition, two well-researched types of lethal violence overlap in the case of HS: homicide and suicide. However, it is questionable whether the findings about homicide and suicide which are often contradictory suit this peculiar type of violence. There is a tradition in violence research to regard homicide and suicide as antagonistic expressions of human aggression. Previous studies on HS have suggested two typical motives: a) an ‘extended suicide’ in which a parent (either father or mother) ‘takes the children with him/her’ in a pseudo-altruistic and non-hostile mood; b) a homicide followed by suicide committed by a male partner who intends to punish the female partner for perceived sexual infidelity or intend to separate. Depressive and suicidal symptoms often seem to play a role, but a psycho-pathological condition has been found only in a minority of cases. Compared to other forms of homicide, perpetrators of HS are less likely to show risk factors like previous convictions, previous domestic violence or certain socio-demographic markers which render HS cases particularly unpredictable.
The primary aim to improve the understanding of the causes and ‘risk factors’ of HS will be approached on two levels. A psychological part will analyse in-depth information from the files, and in addition from qualitative interviews of imprisoned perpetrators who survived a suicide attempt. This micro-level analysis which is restricted to the German sample will look to individual cases, their antecedences, constellations and personalities of perpetrators. The macro-level, sociological part which includes samples from more European countries (Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Poland, England & Wales, and Switzerland) will look to the contextual influences on HS in a Durkheimian perspective. Official (census) and survey measurements on social integration and social values will be employed to explain regional and national variations in the HS rate, following Emile Durkheim’s theory of social integration which assumes that societies with an emphasis on traditional, collectivist norms tend to foster rather than reduce violence. In this perspective, certain types of domestic violence could be a downside of strong social integration. It seems plausible to assume that a traditional notion of family and gender hierarchy contributes to the motivation of (male) perpetrators in many cases of HS.

Funding: EU Marie Curie European Reintegration Grant.

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  • Last update: 14 December 2017
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