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Brutal murder highlights problems with addressing domestic violence in France

A demonstration in 2018 in Marseille to protest violence against women
A demonstration in 2018 in Marseille to protest violence against women Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

Since the start of 2019, 22 women have been killed in France by their current or ex-husbands or partners. Domestic violence is considered a serious crime in France, but groups that track such violence say police do not always intervene when they should. And women do not feel secure that their complaints will be taken seriously.


Hilal says that her sister, Gulcin, went to the police at least five times to report threats from her ex-husband, before he killed her.

Gulcin left her husband in 2018 and moved into a new flat in Annemasse, near Geneva, with her four young children. She was unable to get a protection order, despite being the victim of repeated threats.

“He was trying to make my sister’s life a misery. He did not like the fact that my sister moved on,” Hilal told RFI from her home in London.

“Even the director of the school contacted the police to say [the ex-husband] had been violent to my sister. This man used to come around the school just to show his presence.”

He was due to be interviewed by police on Wednesday 23 January, but the appointment was pushed back to the week after. On that Friday, Gulcin dropped off the four children at their father’s flat, as he was allowed to see them every two weeks. On Sunday she went to pick them up, accompanied by a friend.

“My sister was scared . . . so she had a friend who was next to her, because she needed the extra support,” says Hilal.

The ex-husband came down to the front of the building with a knife, and stabbed Gulcin’s friend first, and then attacked her.

“It was on the street, in front of the building,” says Hilal. “The children were in the lobby where they could hear the screams.”

Hilal is angry that police did not act to protect her sister.

“She went to the police so many times … They should have taken this matter seriously,” she says. “We are saying: Women need to talk, open up when they are in a terrible situation, when they get beaten up, when they get threats. Yes. Now the women are doing this, but what is being done to save those women?”



Twenty-two French women killed in 2019 so far

For the past three years a group of volunteers has been counting and identifying women killed by their husbands and ex-parnters and publishing them on a Facebook page called Feminicides by partners or exes.

Gulcin was number 15 in 2019, and as of publication, there have been 22 women killed since the start of the year.

“Most of the time, these are women killed, even though they had raised the alert. They filed several complaints, and the state did not put in the means to protect them,” one of the three administrators of the group told RFI, requesting anonymity, as the group has received threats.

For the past three years the group’s numbers have matched official statistics published by the interior ministry. But these are published only in October of the following year.

Official statistics published in November 2018 recorded 130 women killed by their current or ex-partners in 2017. The group recorded 119 for 2018.

Humanising victims

“Each time they send the statistics, it’s just a number. For us, that was not enough,” says the administrator.

“What we want is to do a publication for each victim, to make them visible and name them. We look for first names, we look for death announcements.”

The administrator says she has about 75 Google alerts looking for articles with keywords like “body of a woman found” or “kills his wife”. There are also searches for terms that they disagree with, like “crimes of passion”.

“Legally, domestic abuse is considered an aggravated crime, whereas in spirit, it’s diminished,” said the volunteer. “The fact that it’s called a ‘crime of passion’ diminishes the importance, even as it should be aggravated. And we see it in the sentences: Someone who attacks you in the street gets a two-year prison term; if it’s your partner, it’s a six-month suspended sentence.”

The group has about 8,000 followers on Facebook, and is in touch with about 30 families of victims, including Gulcin’s.

The administrator would like the families to form a group, “like families of victims of terrorism,” she says. It would allow them to put pressure on the authorities to ensure the safety of their loved ones.

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