Remove barriers: France helps women report abuse to the police

PARIS-France is launching a new procedure for women to formally report domestic violence, sexual abuse and other abuse to avoid police stations where many victims feel uncomfortable to file such complaints.

The measure came after tens of thousands of women in France shared online testimony about police victims accusing them or handling improper handling when reporting sexual abuse. In recent years, the government has also faced pressure to better protect women from deadly domestic violence.

Junior Interior Minister Marlene Schiappa said that other locations for complaints to the police could include friends’ homes or other places where the abused women feel safe.

An annual survey led by the national statistical agency INSEE found that only 10% of victims of sexual abuse in France file formal complaints.

The police reported this week that reports of domestic violence increased by 10% last year. According to INSEE estimates, more than 200,000 women are physically or sexually abused by their partners or ex-partners each year.

The latest government initiative will try to send police officers to places where women take refuge so that they can lodge formal complaints. Schiappa says this will enable the victim to “stay in an environment where you feel safe, at a friend’s house, a lawyer’s house, a hospital, or a doctor’s house.”

She added that in addition to this, other efforts have been made in recent years, including training more police officers, creating a list of questions to assess dangers, and reminding the police about the possibility of using text messages or Internet platforms.

The junior minister is responsible for overseeing the relationship between the police and women victims of violence. On Tuesday, she visited a renovated police station in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, which now includes an office for the privacy of complainants and a room dedicated to children with toys and books.

This visit is part of other activities this week to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Thursday.

European lawmakers on Thursday called for binding rules in 27 EU countries to better protect women, and pointed out that one-third of women in the EU have experienced sexual or other physical violence in their lifetime. Half of the murdered women were killed by someone close to them.

In France, a new complaint process is currently being launched in some regions of the country, with the purpose of promoting it nationwide.

The measure came after a viral campaign on French social media condemned the shocking reactions of some police officers when they reported sexual abuse. According to activists, the hashtag #DoublePeine (#DoubleSentencing) quickly counted at least 30,000 accounts suspected of police abuse.

“I want to value and support the actions of the police force…and remind everyone again that in most cases, the handling of complaints has received a lot of sympathy and support,” Schiapa said. “But for a small number of poor cases, it is clearly unacceptable.”

In recent months, the Ministry of the Interior has issued instructions to the police regarding the legal obligation to accept all complaints. Previously, women said they were discouraged by the police from reporting abuses—sometimes on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

“Refusal to accept complaints is illegal,” Schiappa said. “We hope to forward the complaint to the prosecutor’s office so that the judicial system can take over.”

Axelle Garnier de Saint Sauveur, a psychologist who works with the Paris police to help care for victims and train police officers, said that women face a series of obstacles when reporting abuse.

When their partner controls them, it “stops everything. It prevents (them) from seeking protection and filing complaints,” she said. “You also have the fact that the traumatic situation completely hinders the victim’s ability to think.”

Another reason is “when you are abused, there is definitely a part of fear and don’t know what to do. How will you be treated when you complain”.

“(For the victim) it is terrible to think like this:’I will not be heard, I will not be welcomed.’ Then there is another obstacle to overcome: entering the police station.”

Thousands of people marched in Paris and other cities on Saturday, asking the government to take more action on this issue. “We remember that violence is everywhere. This is not inevitable,” the feminist organization NousToutes wrote on Twitter.

Activists hope that the government will spend 1 billion euros (US$1.1 billion) in combating violence against women each year instead of the 360 ​​million euros (US$406 million) it is now spending—partly to build more shelters.

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