Four years on, Paris attacks survivors struggle in silence
Four years after 130 people were murdered in coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, a fund to help survivors is still receiving new cases - underlining how long it can take for victims to come to terms with their trauma.
Those who lost their lives in the 13 November 2015 attacks at the Bataclan concert hall, Stade de France stadium and bars and cafés around the French capital were just some of the casuaties. Add to that the thousands of survivors, witnesses and bereaved families who are unable to move on.
So far, 2,659 people suffering physical or psychological consequences of the attacks have been accepted into the Guarantee Fund for Victims of Terrorism and other Criminal Acts (FGTI).
The majority of cases were opened in the months following the attacks, but new ones are still opened every year, including 50 in so far in 2019. Last year saw 81 new cases.
“They are victims from abroad but also victims who did not consider themselves to be victims – survivor’s syndrome – and who, after three years, realise that they are unable to face what happened to them alone,” Julien Rencki, director general of the FGTI, told reporters last week.
“We are not in a hurry; the law allows 10 years for victims to apply to the Guarantee Fund.”
Trauma affects people differently
Mental health workers familiar with post-traumatic stress are not surprised that new cases would arise four years after the attacks.
“It often takes a long time to really evaluate how a person has been affected,” says Thierry Baubet, a psychiatrist who works with attack survivors. “A person may believe they have overcome the events. And then troubles appear 12 months after the fact.”
Aside from an erratic timeline, post-traumatic stress does not affect everyone equally.
“Not everyone who was inside the Bataclan developed troubles, even if they had comparable exposure,” says Baubet, who estimates about 50 percent of survivors of the ordeal at the concert hall developed some form of post-traumatic stress.
Baubet describes four main sets of symptoms: reliving the event with the same intensity and distress; avoiding contact with any person or place that recalls the event; remaining in a state of hyper-alertness to the point it is impossible to sleep or concentrate; or succumbing to negative emotions including rage, fear, shame, guilt and sadness.
Any of these can become chronic and prevent the person from maintaining work or having a stable personal life. They can lead to further complications including depression, addiction or thoughts of suicide.
Troubles grow as support wanes
If in general post-traumatic stress begins to ease off after 18 to 24 months, the timeline can be much longer with it comes to mass attacks like those of 13 November 2015, which happened in multiple locations and, in the case of the Bataclan, over the course of several hours.
“The violence of these attacks, the venues where they took place, the number of dead, the number of locations and the political and economic context all make the time of recovery and the personal impact longer and deeper than usual,” says Philippe Duperron, who lost his son at the Bataclan - and who is now president of the victims’ group 13-onze-15 Fraternité et Vérité.
If doctors, victims’ groups and the FGTI all agree that the Paris attacks present victims of psychological wounds with long-term challenges, victims can also suffer as the rest of society moves on.
“In general, a victim of a terrorist attack receives a lot of support in the weeks and months that follow - from friends, employers, the whole country,” Baubet says. “And then very quickly, this support fades away, and the person faces feelings of solitude and abandonment.”
What’s more, an offer of compensation can only be made when a person’s condition stabilises enough to assess the extent of the impact, meaning new cases can continue to arise for years to come.
107 million euros in compensation issued
Of the total number of requests for compensation, 1,267 have to do with psychological wounds, 586 for physical injuries and 806 in relation to bereavement.
Nearly 80 percent of victims, a total of 2,050 people, have received an offer of compensation. Sixty percent have accepted, while 40 percent have entered a period of negotiation and possible revision. The FGTI said 2.5 percent of offers are being contested before a judge.
The fund said that 107 million euros in compensation has been paid to date and estimates upwards of 250 million euros will be paid to 13 November victims in total.
Created in 1986, the FGTI is financed by a 5.90-euro contribution for each of the 90 million insurance contracts signed for assets in France, as well as financial products and a small contribution raised from fines on infractions.