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Mothers who kill: bad or sick? From maternal psychopathology to filicide

A case dating back to May 2002 has stuck with me: a 31-year-old mother kills her 8-month-old daughter by putting her in the washing machine in her home in Valtellina.

The woman opened the appliance door and placed the little girl's body in the basket and then started washing. It was the child's father who made the tragic discovery.
I will never forget this case.

In fact, among the crimes in the family, the most impressive is undoubtedly the infanticide perpetrated by mothers against their own children.

After this case, the news highlighted many others: among all, the case of Cogne had particular media relevance. You will remember the models, the interviews and the tears of the accused, the statements of the commentators of the television lounges who were divided between innocentists and guilty parties. The latter are always in the majority, to tell the truth. In any case…

From then on, everything changed. Since that affair, where the mother was later convicted with a definitive sentence, the media trials have had a significant leap forward.

But, as I observed, the cases that have children as victims are many and very different from each other. Some are neonatocides (if the crime occurs within 24 hours of birth), others are infanticide (if the killing takes place immediately after delivery or within a period of time ranging from 6 months to a year), still others are filicides (if it occurs beyond the first year of life but in any case within the minor age).

The phenomenon is transversal. It can happen anywhere, north or south, at any age and cultural level. Sometimes, not always, after killing, mothers commit suicide themselves.

Some kill out of "altruism", they believe they are "saving" their child from a future of pain (often imaginary) and loneliness. Other times they kill to take revenge on their partner or because it is the result of a clandestine relationship. Still others because the birth of a child would interrupt one's career and because it would be difficult to face the practical and economic difficulties that the birth of a child would entail.

These are just a few examples.

There is the syndrome of Medea, who, out of revenge, had sacrificed her children to punish the man who had abandoned her…
But a child can also kill himself by not taking care of him: by starving him or by exposing him to the cold.
It may happen that simple crying becomes an unsustainable stressor.

According to the law and psychiatry, not all infanticide is derived from insanity. Paradoxically, a woman with a chronic disorder could manage her motherhood perfectly while a sane woman could short-circuit, experience postpartum depression and not be responsible for the homicidal conduct.

Anyone who kills a child due to a mental disorder "is not crazy" but suffers from an inability to understand and want at the time of the fact. Obviously, this is very important for the purposes of imputability or otherwise in criminal matters.

But how do they kill these mothers?

With immediate modalities such as drowning or suffocation, again, defenestration; but not only…
In some cases, still in a confused state, they confess to the crime or attempt suicide. In others, probably in order not to lose the support of the family, they will deny it forever. As has been seen in many cases.

Some, in the past, have had hospitalizations for attempted suicides, others have suffered from general ailments that have never deepened.

Managing the new life as a mother is not easy at all. In fact, the physical and mental balance is upset and these women don't always have a man next to them. Or, the man is there but fails to fully understand the serious situation that the woman lives.
In fact, whether they are infants or not, when a mother kills her own child it almost never does it for an explosion of sudden and uncontrolled violence but there is always some malaise that precedes the most tragic moment and which dwells for a long time in the mind of the woman. Perhaps those close to her underestimate the phenomenon or do not notice anything.

Personally, I believe, with the utmost respect for all the victims of these atrocious events, that on some occasions it would have been possible to avoid the tragic ending.


For example, by staying close to these mothers, not leaving the visibly fragile ones alone. Be aware and accept the fact that a problem exists and that, if you intervene in time, it can be cured.

We will talk about this and much more on December 15 in an online seminar entitled "Mothers who kill: bad or sick?
From maternal psychopathology to filicide”, organized by
Furfaro Law Firm,
International Society of Criminology and Forensic Sciences,
International Institute of Criminological and Psychopathological-Forensic Sciences,
professional speakers,
Marcè Italian Society for Perinatal Mental Health.

The speakers will be excellent: the Prof. Vincent Mastronardi, the Dr Viviana Lamarra, the Dr Alessandra Bramante and the Dr Fuani Marino who will tell us about his direct experience.

The topic is of burning relevance and will be treated with respect and professionalism.

Cases of mothers killing their children repeatedly will be proposed, as well as the psychological differences between feticide, neonatocide and infanticide. We will talk about the Abused Child Syndrome, because very often the homicidal act follows physical abuse; therefore, some worldwide studies on childhood sexual abuse and its psychiatric consequences will also be reviewed.
But there will be much more…

For Lawyers we have requested training credits from the CNF

For information and registration:

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