Female suicide and wife abuse: a cross-cultural perspective

Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1987 Fall;17(3):194-204. doi: 10.1111/j.1943-278x.1987.tb00267.x.


Data from a number of societies, including North America, indicate that wife abuse may be one of the most significant precipitants of female suicide. Anthropological analysis indicates that in some societies female suicide is a culturally recognized behavior that enables the weak to influence the strong and/or take revenge on those who oppress them. Case studies from West New Britain Province in Papua New Guinea and comparisons with data from other societies suggest that if a woman's support group does not defend her when she is the victim of violence that passes the bounds of normative behavior, her suicide may be revenge suicide, intended to force others to take vengeance on the abusive husband. Research focused on the relationship between domestic violence and female suicide should be a priority of anthropologists as well as suicidologists.

PIP: This article focuses on the relationship between wife abuse and female suicide in the Melanesian societies through a presentation of case studies. In Papua New Guinea, domestic violence was found to be a normal part of marital relationships, and the major context in which suicide occurred was after severe and physically violent domestic arguments. Abused, shamed, and powerless wives take their own lives to shift the burden of humiliation from themselves to their tormentors. In West New Britain, Fiji, and South American societies, suicide associated with marital violence were also common. Data from a number of societies indicate that wife abuse remains to be one of the most important precipitants of female suicide and suicide attempts. An understanding of the dynamics that exists between wife abuse and female suicide should be of great value to professionals who deal with women faced with said problems.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Culture
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Marriage
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Spouse Abuse*
  • Suicide / psychology*