France is launching a new process for women to officially report domestic violence and sexual and other abuse, bypassing police stations where many victims feel uncomfortable making such complaints.
The move comes after tens of thousands of women in France shared testimonies online of victims of police blaming them or mistreating complaints while reporting sexual abuse. The government has also come under pressure in recent years to better protect women from deadly domestic violence.
Deputy Home Secretary Marlene Schiappa said other places to file complaints against the police may include a friend’s home or another place where abused women feel safe.
“There are women who tell us that they do not dare to come to a police station because they are afraid of not being welcomed, because it is hard to talk about taboo things (with) a stranger in uniform in an environment foreigner, “she said in an interview with The Associated Press.” That is why we are lifting the obstacles they face one after the other.
An annual survey conducted by the national statistical institute INSEE revealed that only 10% of victims of sexual abuse in France file a formal complaint.
And police this week reported a 10% increase in domestic violence reports last year. It is estimated that more than 200,000 women are physically or sexually assaulted each year by their partner or ex-partner, according to INSEE.
The latest government initiative will attempt to send police to where the women have found refuge so that they can lodge formal complaints. This will allow victims to stay “in an environment where you feel safe, with a friend, with your lawyer, in the hospital, with your doctor,” Schiappa said.
This is in addition to other efforts in recent years, including training more police officers, creating a list of questions asked to assess danger, and the ability to alert police by text or via an internet platform, she added.
The Deputy Minister is responsible for overseeing the relationship between the police and women victims of violence. On Tuesday, she went to a renovated police station in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, now including an office ensuring the privacy of depositors, and a room dedicated to children, with toys and books.
The visit was part of other events this week to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Thursday.
EU lawmakers on Thursday called for binding rules in the 27 EU countries to better protect women, noting that one in three women in the bloc experiences sexual or other physical violence in her lifetime, and that half of murdered women in the EU are killed by someone near them.
In France, the new complaint filing process is currently deployed in certain regions of the country with the objective of generalizing it at the national level.
The measure comes after a viral campaign on French social networks denounced the shocking reaction of some police officers when they denounced sexual abuse. The hashtag #DoublePeine (#DoubleSentencing) quickly counted at least 30,000 testimonies of alleged ill-treatment by the police, according to activists.
“I want to value and support the action of the police forces (…) and remind everyone once again that in the vast majority of cases, complaints are treated with a lot of empathy, a lot of support”, said Schiappa. “But for the minority of cases where things go wrong, this is obviously unacceptable.”
In recent months, the Home Office has sent police instructions on the legal obligation to accept all complaints, following testimony from women saying they were discouraged by officers from reporting abuse. – sometimes with the argument of insufficient evidence.
“Refusing to receive a complaint is illegal,” Schiappa said. “We want the complaints to be transmitted to the prosecution so that justice can deal with them.
Axelle Garnier de Saint Sauveur, a psychologist working with the Paris police to help care for victims and train officers, said there are a range of barriers for women to report abuse.
When their partner has a hold on them, it “blocks everything. This prevents (them) from going to protection, from making a complaint, “she said.” You also have the fact that traumatic situations completely hinder the victim’s capacity for thinking. “
Another reason is that “there is surely an element of fear, of ignorance of what to do when one is mistreated. How will you be treated ”when filing a complaint.
“It’s scary (for the victim) to think, ‘I won’t be heard, I won’t be welcome.’ And then there is the obstacle to overcome: entering a police station.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched in Paris and other cities to demand more government action on the issue. “We recalled that violence is everywhere. That it’s not inevitable, ”tweeted the women’s right-wing group NousAlles.
The activists want the government to spend 1 billion euros ($ 1.1 billion) each year on combating violence against women, instead of the 360 million ($ 406 million) currently spent on party to create more shelters.