French women demand action on domestic violence deaths

French women demand action on domestic violence deaths

More than 130 women have died as a result of domestic violence so far this year in France, and activists are now plastering their names on buildings across the country to highlight their plight.

Studies show France has a higher rate of domestic violence than most of its European peers, and the issue has been described by President Emmanuel Macron as “France’s shame”.

But anti-violence campaigners are demanding action, and under the cover of night they have glued on to walls posters featuring the names of the dead alongside the words: “Complaints ignored, women killed.”

In addition, hundreds of women have walked silently through city streets after each new death.

Women hold placards featuring the names of women killed by their partners during a protest in Paris (Thibault Camus/AP)
Women hold placards featuring the names of women killed by their partners during a protest in Paris (Thibault Camus/AP)

A Justice Ministry report released earlier this month acknowledged authorities’ systematic failure to intervene to prevent domestic violence killings.

But on Monday, the government will announce measures that are expected to include seizing firearms from people suspected of domestic violence, prioritising police training and formally recognising “psychological violence” as a form of domestic violence.

Women are not the only victims of domestic violence, but French officials say they make up the vast majority.

Lawyers and victims’ advocates say women are too often disbelieved or turned away by French police.

Police inaction made national headlines when Mr Macron visited a hotline call centre in September and listened in on a call with a 57-year-old woman whose husband had threatened to kill her. He heard a police officer on the other end tell the woman he could not help her.

Posters tell the story of Delphine, 33, who was ‘strangled by her husband Reanud with their four children present’ in Paris (Francois Mori/AP)
Posters tell the story of Delphine, 33, who was ‘strangled by her husband Reanud with their four children present’ in Paris (Francois Mori/AP)

The hotline operator told Mr Macron that such responses were not unusual.

Police officers across Europe often dismiss domestic violence as a private matter and fail to intervene at crucial moments, an EU study found this year.

But France is particularly bad, said EU researcher Albin Dearing, who led a study this year that examined domestic violence in seven European countries, including France.

“When it comes to violence against women, it showed actually that police do very little to protect women who turn to them for protection,” he said.

Frederique Martz, who runs anti-domestic violence organisation Women Safe, said it can take between three weeks and two months for authorities to act on a complaint, leaving the victim “in a very fragile situation”.

Paris police officers attend a training session on how to better respond to complaints of domestic violence (Francois Mori/AP)
Paris police officers attend a training session on how to better respond to complaints of domestic violence (Francois Mori/AP)

The Justice Ministry report this month found 41% of “conjugal homicide” victims studied had previously reported incidents of domestic violence, and 80% of complaints sent to prosecutors were not investigated.

But Fabienne Boulard, of the national police force, said many officers respond appropriately to reports of domestic violence.

Those who do not – the ones who react “clumsily” or ask the wrong questions – do not usually mean harm, she added, they just fail to recognise domestic violence or know how to intervene.

Earlier this month, Ms Boulard led the first supplementary training on domestic violence for police in the Paris suburb of Les Mureaux.

She said the three-hour session aimed to help officers understand the pressures that victims face and “why the victim is not what they imagined, why sometimes they don’t correspond with the criteria they expect to see”.

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