04.09.2019 Europe

As France opens domestic abuse consultation, Macron witnesses police inaction

Eirc Feferberg/AFP
LISTEN SEP 4, 2019
Eirc Feferberg/AFP

France plans to create 1,000 new spots in shelters for victims of domestic violence, the biggest concrete measure to come out of the opening of a major consultation on domestic violence. As the conference opened, President Emmanuel Macron witnessed first-hand the way police often dismiss women's calls for help.

"For centuries, women have been buried under our indifference, denial, carelessness, age-old machismo and incapacity to look this horror in the face," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Tuesday, opening the consultation that will last until 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

France currently spends five million euros a year to try to prevent deadly domestic violence, but critics say it's not enough, and victims and activists have stepped up efforts to persuade the government to do and invest more.

Last year, 121 women were killed in France by a current or former partner, murders that have been called feminicides. So far this year, at least 101 women have been killed.

Philippe kicked off the consultations by announcing plans for legislation allowing for the wide-scale use of electronic bracelets to prevent domestic violence offenders from approaching their victims. He said judges would be able to order an electronic tag for a person who is targeted by a restraining order, but who has not yet been convicted of a crime.

Police slow to react
Many feminicide victims had previously reported abusive partners to police who were slow to react to prevent the murders.

The issue was made clear on Tuesday when President Emmanuel Macron visited the Pairs office of a domestic violence hotline and overheard a call in which a woman who had decided to leave her abusive husband told one of the hotline operators that the police were refusing to accompany her to her home to pick up her things.

An officer of the military police came on the line and said that he needed a judicial order to intervene.

Macron disagreed, but said nothing on the line. Speaking to the hotline operator, he said the police's job is to protect victims, not apply the law, and that the problem was not the law, but one of training. The hotline operator told the president that this is not a unique experience, and she directed the woman to a support group.

The government's proposals also include provisions for family court judges to be allowed to suspend visitation rights of men who attack or threaten their ex wives, and for women hospitalised for domestic violence to be allowed file a criminal complaint from their hospital bed.

But some feminist groups expressed disappointment at the government's failure to commit large sums of money to the fight against gender-based violence.

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