Femicide and suicide in partner relationships: a social problem we can prevent

October 2, 2023
Photo: Marija Erdelji/Journalists against Violence


Firearms misuse significantly increases the risk of a fatal outcome in situations of attempted femicide (gender-based killings of women) and/or suicide. While the total number of suicides is decreasing, Serbia is still at the top in the Western Balkans when it comes to the number of suicides by firearm. These are most often committed by men. While it may seem that femicide and the suicide of the perpetrator belong in the private sphere, these are social problems that can be prevented. 

In the last 12 years, an average of 30 femicides were committed each year, regardless of the method of execution. The perpetrators of these acts were most often the partners or husbands of the victims.  

The highest share of femicides followed by the suicide of the perpetrator, was committed with a firearm in an intimate partner relationship.  

Characteristics and prevention of intimate partner femicide-suicide cases committed with a firearm, UNDP (2023)

The total number of femicide cases committed with a firearm, as well as the number of those followed by the suicide of the perpetrator, varies. Out of the total number of femicides, the highest number of murders with a firearm was recorded in 2015 - 45.71%, and the lowest in 2018, when the share of these femicides was 20%. The share of such femicides followed by suicide was the highest in 2017 and the lowest in 2016.


Carrying of and access to firearms as a risk  

Access to firearms, whether in legal or in illegal possession, as well as professions  that involve the carrying of and access to firearms, or hobbies that imply the possession of firearms, are some of the most significant risks, as indicated by the findings of the research on the characteristics and prevention of intimate partner suicide-femicide cases committed with a firearm. 

Additionally, access to firearms increases the risk of mass murder and multiple victims of violence, as well as risk of severe injuries and disability The Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence recognizes possession of firearms, as well as threats of murder and suicide as factors to be checked during risk assessment in cases of violence.  

The analysis of femicide cases  in the period from 2017 to 2020, reveals that one fifth of them were committed with firearms. In these cases, almost 80% of the perpetrators attempted or committed suicide after murdering their partner/wife. 

Femicides followed by suicide mostly occur in a domestic-partner relationship context and, more often than other forms of homicide, they involve other victims. The relationship between the victim and the perpetrator is of great importance for understanding the dynamics of these cases. The closer the relationship between the perpetrators and the victims, the higher the probability that they will commit suicide after the murder.

Research shows that, in most femicide-suicide cases committed with firearms, earlier violence by the perpetrator was not previously reported to institutions. Three patterns were identified in relation to the (non)reporting: 

  • ‘Under the radar’ cases: 

a) cases that went unnoticed by everyone - perpetrators were not seen as capable of committing a crime; 

b) cases in which family members and friends observed the perpetrator’s ‘sick’ and ‘obsessive’ jealousy, violence or alcoholism, the partner left the perpetrator, but no one reported the violence to institutions; 

c) cases in which the community knew the perpetrators well, the perpetrators obsessively pursued their partners, and social welfare centres knew one family member on other grounds, and this domestic violence/violence in partner relationship was also not reported to the institutions.

  • ‘Red flag’ cases - cases of violence from current or previous relationships with jealousy and obsessive stalking or the perpetrators’ serious psychological problems, where the partners left the perpetrators, the violence was repeatedly reported to the institutions, which had intervened, but there was no consent in risk assessment or defined protection measures, and the femicide-suicide was committed. 

  • ‘Profession as a risk’ cases - in which the perpetrator’s job involves carrying a firearm - police officer, gamekeeper, hunter, etc.


Towards a solution

The problem is preventing a lethal outcome stemming from social phenomena:  firearms misuse and abuse of power in family and intimate-partner relationships, leading to femicide or suicide. Masculine culture stands at the root of the problem, affecting men to consider their wives as their property and leading to the perception that men able to handle a firearm is socially favourable, while showing weakness is unacceptable. In practice, this means that men seek psychological or psychiatric assistance less frequently than women, resulting in a higher suicide rate among men.  

According to the research by the „Srce“ (Eng. Heart) Centre (1), the share of suicides committed with firearms in Serbia was above 10% in the last ten years. From 2012 to 2021, 95% of suicides by firearm were committed by men.  Additionally, men above 45 represent the majority of persons who committed suicide with firearms in the past 10 years (80%).


The role of the healthcare system

The healthcare system plays a significant role in the prevention of domestic violence, as well as femicide as its most severe consequence, confirmed by the successful practice of the City of Niš Healthcare Centre.

Their practices can serve as a model to other institutions, bearing in mind that healthcare teams for responding to domestic violence and supporting survivors have not been established throughout Serbia, and that most healthcare professionals believe they need additional competency building to efficiently respond to cases of gender-based violence (2). In this sense, workshops gathering representatives of several sectors to strengthen joint action in violence prevention, as well as materials addressing concrete dilemmas of healthcare professionals about their possibilities in violence prevention, are valuable resources. 

PYRAMID OF PREVENTION – based on findings of the research on femicide-suicide cases

The role of media 

Media primarily have an educational role in the process of violence prevention. The greatest challenge is to stop sensationalism in reporting and publishing of irrelevant details, as it has been confirmed that this causes social impacts such as the “Werther effect” (increase of the number of suicides following increased media reporting on specific suicide cases) or “copycat effect” (a wave of suicides emulating a concrete case depicted in detail in the media). 

Building on the World Health Organization’s guidelines developed over a decade ago,  the “Srce” Centre and “Journalists against Violence against Women” group prepared the Guidelines for Ethical Media Reporting on Suicide (in Serbian).  For the first time, these guidelines cover two phenomena on which media reporting has been questionable: reporting on femicide-suicide cases and on celebrity suicides. Workshops analysing concrete examples of appropriate and inappropriate media reporting on violence against women, firearms misuse and suicide, are also a good way of overcoming concrete dilemmas with regards educational and preventive reporting on these topics. 


Next steps 

Prevention of firearms misuse for violence and suicide should be based on the joint action of different institutions working to achieve a common goal – preventing intimate-partner and domestic violence, as well as suicide which may be linked to violent relationships.  

The first steps in defining a roadmap to prevent suicide and femicide involve the correct identification of risk factors, including firearms misuse. Its development implies the participation of representatives of the healthcare system, Ministry of Interior, as well as psychology and media professionals, gathered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Serbia with the aim of contributing to reducing the risk of firearms misuse for violence and suicide. 

Through its activities, UNDP brought together numerous stakeholders to analyse major challenges of the security sector, health care and the widest public, and pinpoint opportunities for developing concrete solutions. Through this joint work, the necessary next steps have been identified to improve the situation in this field:  

  • Development of model of work of healthcare centre Teams for Violence Prevention. 

  • Increasing efficiency of information exchange among the Ministry of Interior, social welfare centres and the healthcare sector, as well as improving procedures for firearms permit issuance, so that risks of misuse are recognized more effectively.   

  • Strengthening internal psychological support to police personnel. 

  • Improving cooperation between health care and public prosecutor’s offices, as well as groups for coordination and cooperation responsible for considering domestic violence cases (3). 

  • Informing doctors involved in assessment of medical fitness to carry firearms on possible forms of misuse, as well as education of general practitioners on risk factors for suicide, bearing in mind they are the healthcare system’s first line of prevention. 

  • Continuation of the process of healthcare digitalization and linking of platforms used to improve access to available information for general physicians. This would enable general practitioners to have all relevant information about their patients and recognize risk factors for suicide.  

  • Training of media, i.e., journalists and editors, on the significance of appropriate reporting on femicide and suicide. 

The joint approach of responsible institutions enables a comprehensive response to firearms misuse, focusing on the safety of individuals, the community, but also the entire society. 

Author of the text: Jovana Gligorijevic


Activities described in the text are part of the project “Reduce Risk - Increase Safety II” implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Serbia, with the financial support provided by Germany, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Norway, as well as the support by the European Union, through the United Nations’ Western Balkans SALW Control Roadmap Multi-Partner Trust Fund.

The objective of the project was to reduce the risk of misuse of firearms for domestic violence or suicides by persons who have access to firearms as civilians, or based on their occupation or hobby, as well as those who have access to illegal firearms. 


(1) Research on firearms misuse for suicide, UNDP, 2023 

(2) According to findings of the Capacity Assessment of Healthcare Workers and Healthcare Institutions to Respond to Gender-based Violence, UNFPA, 2022, available in Serbian at: https://serbia.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/086_publikacija_sida_istrazivanje-v011.pdf

(3) According to the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence, a group for coordination and cooperation is formed on the territory within the jurisdiction of each basic public prosecutor’s office. These groups meet at least once each 15 days and discuss all reported domestic violence cases. The groups develop individual protection and support plans for violence survivors, defining concrete measures and timeframes for their implementation.