By Nathalie Riesen, Expert in helping victims of toxic relationships, Geneva

In the unprecedented health emergency that we are experiencing, the call to stay at home may not reassure everyone.

Confined victims of toxic relations ships or domestic violence are at the mercy of their executioner.

Now confronted 24 h / 24 h with their aggressor this high-tension lock-up may result in imploding already tense situations. All stakeholders are on alert.

Sending warning signals it is not enough to stop this. It is action time! To act, you have to

  1. Understand by learning
  2. Organize oneself step by step
  3. Make a decision
  4. Provide adequate response



  1. Understand by learning

At the very beginning a toxic relationship arises in a fertile soil. A toxic relationship is a dominant to dominated relationship in which one asks the other to abdicate certain aspects of his personality with the sole purpose of harming him, devaluing him or even destroying him.

This relationship is organized around a dramatic triangle of “victim, executioner and savior” and the grip cycle in which the victim will fall. Without realizing it, the victim will become the object of the other. There will be a master and a servant.

This is a subject to object relationship where there is no room for any negotiation or compromise. The victim then becomes a prey and a puppet at the service of the other. She is soon no more than a shadow of herself, gradually losing any discernment ability.

The executioner weaves his canvas in five steps :

  • To find a prey
  • To seduce the prey by making it live a real honeymoon
  • To squeeze the prey using everything he knows about her, to devalue, humiliate and stunt her with repeated insidious psychological violence, the victim will not necessarily understand what is happening to her.
  • To destroy the prey with physical action or even incentives for the victim to harm herself.
  • To self-justify in order to turn over the victim again and again by making her feel guilty.



The victim often needs a click to start opening her eyes and gradually listen to the signals and interpret them as an assault. She then can begin to organize her thoughts and reeducate herself. One can only wish she could flee away and cut off all contacts with her attacker so that she would stop feeding him.

Sadly, an escape is not always possible because the victim is often economically and emotionally tied up to her aggressor. She might also have children with him. This means putting in place an exit plan so that the victim can integrate what is happening and not fall back into the trap of manipulation once out. In particular, by resisting the calls of his aggressor, who in the fifth phase described above, will never cease playing the game again by making the victim feel guilty or by pretending to be himself a victim in order to recapture his prey.

As they are in loss of self-esteem and trust, victims are lacking from strength. They are feeling guilty and shameful.

Willing to do good is not enough to accompany efficiently a victim of toxic relationship or domestic violence.

Patience, silence, listening and non-judging are essential qualities needed for the victim to free her speech so that she can be able to regain strength, gather her ideas and be able to face :

  1. Her aggressor
  2. Her children if she has any
  3. Her surroundings
  4. Institutions

Today is a serious time. Whereas the victim may have had some time for herself during the day when her perpetrator would go to work, she is now trapped in an anxious daily life that keep her in an atmosphere of violence 24h / 24h.

Along with many associations, lawyers, and stakeholders, I am extremely concerned and fear a surge in domestic violence in the coming weeks.

If you add to the current containment conditions a possible over consumption of alcohol due to confinement related stress you end up with an explosive cocktail possibly leading to great danger for those people. The children are also at the forefront of my concerns because, not being at school anymore, they could now be spectators of their parents’ domestic violence 24h / 24 h thus putting them in great physical and psychological danger.



  1. Organize oneself step by step

During the past few days, I have been thinking about how to act accordingly. I have been reading about the worrying reports of the effects of confinement in China and Italy

( transfemminista/ Spain is very reactive by creating a hotline with a geolocation of sent messages and a big campaign talking about this problem. France has already seen in the last few days an increase in domestic violence which led the police forces to intervene. Switzerland is also concerned about this phenomenon, but are we prepared to it ?

I usually advocate that time and patience are necessary to accompany those people who are victims of toxic relationships, but I realize today that time is running against us.

One could say that this unexpected situation may provoke a strong reaction for the victim and let her escape from that psychological/physical hold. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the newly implanted government measures do not encourage those persons.

Just think at the shock of the containment announce for a victim of toxic relationships whose only breath of fresh air could have been the stolen cofffee with a relative or friend, going to work, going out to buy the newspaper or even coming to one of my consultations without telling anyone about it.

In addition to the shock are denial, rejection, anguish, fear, confusion, guilt, fear, shame, stress, all things providing an unexpected additional opportunity for the aggressor to reign as master on his kingdom.

Isolation is now imposed, thus plunging the victim into solitude and desolation.

Though this forum, I am calling to your creativity for all of us to unify around this theme. I was talking yesterday with a journalist who told me she had thought of a “hotline”. Although this idea might be ideal in normal times when victims have access to usual means of communication, the current period is certainly not normal and requires creative answers.

Under current circumstances, the victims is now under surveillance 24 h. / 24 h. Even though it is possible that during the predator’s rest periods she could be looking for help, we still need to measure the risks and consequences of that action for her.

The solutions may lie in alerting the medias, alerting our relatives, our neighbours etc… Although confined, it is everyone’s responsibility to declare any uncommon situations that they may have witnessed or heard of.

Let us be as vigilant in doing so as we are in following health instructions



  1. Make a decision

While the Courts and Institutions are working at a slow pace, this forum initiated by Feminin Pluriel allow me to raise your awareness about this issue, which is essentially a female one, since it is always women who mostly suffer from discrimination, both at the individual and professional level, and who are victims of psychological, economic, institutional and physical violence.

It is my intention to moderate this forum with your help. Because we are many and fully embedded in an efficient network, we can take the right decisions and move things forward.

Keep in mind that helping is not saving. Saving would merely keep the other in a form of dependency. Helping is to accompany by proposing real and viable solutions.

This can be done by alerting the authorities, creating an opportunity to sow seeds and ensuring that they germinate in everyone’s head so that perhaps they can reach directly the victim and enable her to take action to save her life.

I look forward to hearing your ideas and your commitments, because this mission concerns all of us, women of mind, action and heart.


  1. Provide adequate response

Thanks to this common brainstorming, which I hope will be fruitful, I will then be able to propose to you a draft with adequate response to enable an active cell to be set up so that this suffering no longer remains in shadow. My mission is and will always be to help the victims.

témoignage de Nathalie Riesen en video (en français)