- Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office
- A Massachusetts grand jury indicted 21-year-old Inyoung You this week on involuntary manslaughter in connection with her boyfriend’s suicide.
- The case bore striking similarities to the landmark 2017 conviction of Michelle Carter, who was deemed criminally culpable in the 2014 suicide of Conrad Roy.
- But a suicide expert told Insider that criminally charging people over the suicides of their partners could lead to a “slippery slope” that might even leave crisis line workers liable.
- “[That] opens the door to saying that somebody who might be on a crisis line either did or did not say something that resulted in your death,” he said.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
A former Boston College student made headlines across the country this week after she was indicted on involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with her boyfriend’s suicide.
On Monday, Suffolk County prosecutors accused 21-year-old Inyoung You of physically, verbally, and psychologically abusing her boyfriend, 22-year-old Alexander Urtula, over their roughly 18-month relationship.
They allege she manipulated Urtula, controlled him by threatening to harm herself, and sent him more than 47,000 text messages in a two-month period, repeatedly urging him to “go die.”
Prosecutors have blamed Urtula’s death on You, and have tried to get her return to the US from her native South Korea to face the charges in court.
The case immediately drew comparisons to that of Michelle Carter, a 22-year-old woman who was convicted in 2017 of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 suicide of Conrad Roy. Carter, too, repeatedly pressured Roy through text messages to kill himself.
But criminal justice and suicide experts warn that the cases present a troubling trend, and question whether involuntary manslaughter is an appropriate charge for another person’s suicide.
The You and Carter cases set a dangerous precedent
Jonathan Singer, president of the American Association of Suicidology and associate professor of social work at Loyola University Chicago, told Insider that criminally charging someone for a suicide could potentially open a floodgate of criminal charges or lawsuits that would leave a host of other people potentially liable.
“This is incredibly complicated,” Singer said. “If you’re holding somebody responsible for what they said, then it’s a slippery slope in terms of the law, in terms of holding people responsible for what they don’t say.”
Singer said You’s and Carter’s cases sat a dangerous precedent based on a flawed premise: that a text can cause someone to kill themselves.
“[That] opens the door to saying that somebody who might be on a crisis line either did or did not say something that resulted in your death,” Singer said.
Though it may seem unlikely that prosecutors would go after a crisis line worker who was only trying to help, Singer pointed out that the loved ones of people who died by suicide often try to seek justice through the legal system.
“What we know is when people lose loved ones to suicide, they’re sad, they’re angry, confused, and sometimes they sue,” Singer said. “And so any crisis line that uses texting or chat, those records are then part of discovery.”
Most suicides are complex, and aren’t caused by a single event or person
- Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office
Singer added that You’s texts and behavior may have been abusive and harmful, but other factors may have affected Urtula’s decision that authorities have not presented.
Simplifying Urtula’s suicide to one single cause may be not only inaccurate, but could be harmful in future cases as well.
“From a legal side, I think that’s dangerous,” Singer said. “From a mental health side, I absolutely believe that the intimate relationships we have with people, we have to take responsibility for what we do in them.”
But he said even the premise that someone can be blamed for another person’s suicide lacks evidence, as well as an understanding of why people choose to take their own lives – which is almost always a complex and multi-factored decision.
Research also shows that as many as 90% of people who have died by suicide also had mental disorders, and many suffered from depression, substance use, or psychiatric illnesses.
“We don’t have any research where we’ve been able to say conclusively that pressure to do something like kill yourself results in a greater likelihood of somebody doing it,” Singer said. “And the reason for that is it would be completely unethical to do this research. So there is no empirical answer to that.”
- Read more:
- 2 women have been criminally charged over their partners’ suicides. Why do men escape the same blame?
- A woman was just charged in the suicide of her boyfriend, and his death highlights the ongoing epidemic of relationship abuse against men
- A Massachusetts college campus has been rocked by allegations that one student drove another to die by suicide
- Suicide is Gen Z’s second-leading cause of death, and it’s a worse epidemic than anything millennials faced at that age
- These crisis text lines and apps are an alternative to get help without having to call the suicide prevention hotline