French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Monday unveiled a string of measures aimed at preventing deadly domestic violence against women, a scourge President Emmanuel Macron has described as “France’s shame”.
Wrapping up ten weeks of consultations on the subject of domestic abuse, Philippe said French law would be amended to take into account the psychological forms of harassment that are a frequent prelude to physical violence.
The prime minister said the measures would help “better define” domestic violence in French law and stiffen penalties, for instance, by introducing an aggravating circumstance in cases when harassment leads to the victim’s suicide.
Philippe also pledged to seize firearms from abusive spouses and better train police as part of a package of measures, worth millions of euros, to reduce the number of women killed by their partners.
Other measures include the creation of 1,000 new places in shelters for victims of domestic violence and expanding the use of electronic bracelets to prevent offenders approaching their victims.
The prime minister’s announcements focussed on ending what he described as “absurdities” and “dysfunctional aspects” in the law to ensure that women would be better protected.
The notion of psychological “entrapment” would now be written into the law as this can also lead to violence, he told reporters in Paris.
And in a measure that has been widely called for, Philippe said that the rules covering medical confidentiality would be changed to make it easier for doctors to signal to the authorities when a person is at risk of violence.
He said that the new measures would be inscribed in a bill to be presented to the French parliament in January, and would benefit from €360 million in additional funding.
The announcements, timed to coincide with the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, comes two days after tens of thousands of protesters marched through Paris to demand a national wake-up call and more government funding.
With one of Europe’s highest domestic violence rates, France has a dismal record when it comes to listening to the victims of abuse and affording them protection.
On average, one woman dies every three days in France as a result of domestic violence. Government officials say 121 women were killed last year. Statistics compiled by AFP, following a case-by-case study, put the number of victims so far this year at 116, though advocacy groups give a higher figure.
Earlier this month, the Justice Ministry released a report acknowledging the authorities’ failure to prevent domestic killings. It found that 41 percent of “conjugal homicide” victims had previously reported incidents of domestic violence, and that 80 percent of complaints sent to prosecutors were not investigated.
“Clearly, our system is failing to protect women,” Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet acknowledged.
Police inaction also made headlines in September after Macron visited a hotline call centre dedicated to reports of violence against women, 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 that he couldn’t help her.