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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Du couple aux coups

by Karine Parquet

Vows for Blows: A Life of Woe? Wives as victims of violence

Translated Monday 19 March 2007, by Isabelle Métral

International Women’s Day.
When vows are returned with blows: in for a life of woe?
The fight against all forms of violence done to women must be fought in the home. Domestic violence affects 10% of women in France.

More facilities are needed, professionals claim, as well as adequate training.

Domestic violence kills: one woman is battered to death by her husband or partner every three days. This kind of murderous violence featured prominently when the local “Watch Committee against Violence to Women” met for the fifth time in Seine-Saint-Denis (a suburb to the north of Paris) last Tuesday.

Maryse Jaspard, researcher at the INED (the National Institute for Demographic Studies) found in her survey of young victims of violence,aged 18 to 21, that, surprisingly, most aggressions take place in the home.

“A tremendous effort still has to be made to curb domestic violence,” pleaded Emmanuelle Piet, a doctor in charge of the local family planning agency, “especially in view of the fact that the abuse women suffer often goes unreported.”

Silence itself may be an incitement to worse cruelty or even murder, as happoened yet another time on February 27, when Rhodora was shot to death by her husband and her name added to the long list of female victims of domestic violence. She had just phoned a friend and begged her to call the police, but the police failed to turn up. An internal investigation has since been ordered, but that kind of “blunder” is by no means exceptional.

Social workers are concerned that battered women are not adequately attended to (if at all) when they go to the police station. They recommend that the police be given specific training to avoid similar misconduct in the future.

The same insensitivity can be found in schools, too. Guy Tressalet, secretary of the Seine-Saint-Denis branch of the Fédération Syndicale Unitaire (which represents the main teachers’ and lecturers’ unions) is alarmed at the number of adults in schools and universities who are simply unaware of the problem. “Our colleagues should be fully informed, and advised on how best to respond.”

Fighting against sexist and violent behaviour also means prevention. Clearly, one of the most effective ways of preventing sexual violence is to take care of the children who witness such scenes at home.

In Emmanuel Piet’s view, the top priority is that all workers, professionals, officers who are likely to be confronted with thiskind of situation learn how to identify violence and how to support the victims. To which Gérard Lopez, a psychiatrist who treats victims in Seine-Saint-Denis, adds the need for cooperation between the different professions concerned. “Once the violence has been identified", he insists, "it can be effectively dealt with only through cooperation between all those whose mission is to fight against it.”

Women who have been assaulted also face practical difficulties, as when homes, hostels, or similar facilities are overcrowded. As a social worker in Bobigny, a neighbouring Paruis suburb, pointed out, some of the victims end up in hostels where they may remain for several months or even up to a year, and all for want of available housing. The requisite facilities must be provided. “And we are short of staff too,” Guy Tressalet protests. “All our demands must be met without delay, which means taking the proper political initiatives.”

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