French government, on back foot over femicide, announces new measures

·3-min read

The French government is to boost measures to help prevent femicide and protect victims after the recent deaths of two women at the hands of their partners highlighted ongoing flaws in the system. The announcement came as the much-awaited trial for pre-meditated murder of Julie Dioub began in Corsica on Thursday.

Julie Dioub was shot by her former partner in March 2019. She had tried to press charges against him five times but no action was taken.

The case, which finally goes to court today in Ile-Rousse in Corsica, sparked protests in France. Campaigners said women who tried to report abusive partners to the police were often being turned away.

The government responded with a so-called Grenelle des violence conjugales, a conference on domestic violence at the end of 2019.

It led to a range of measures including the use of electronic bracelets to alert victims when their attackers are nearby, the distribution of emergency mobile phones for women threatened with violence allowing them to easily alert the police, and expulsion orders to make sure violent spouses leave the home.

The measures helped to reduce the number of femicides – from 146 in 2019 to 90 in 2020.

Brutal murders

But two deaths in May this year came as a sobering reminder that the fight to prevent femicide and offer victims of conjugal violence better protection is far from won.

On 4 May 31-year-old Chahinez Boutaa, a French mother of three, was shot in the legs by her husband before being doused in a flammable liquid and burned alive. The attack happened in broad daylight in the well-heeled neighbourhood of Merignac near Bordeaux airport in southwest France.

Then on 24 May, Stéphanie di Vincenzo, 22, mother of a three year old, was stabbed to death by her partner on the streets of Hayange in eastern France. Di Vincenzo had filed official complaints after receiving death threats and her ex-partner wore an electronic bracelet, but had managed to remove it.

Following Boutaa’s particularly brutal murder, the government launched an enquiry and the conclusions, made public this week, pointed to serious flaws in the system, notably in the way the perpetrator was followed up. It also revealed a lack of coordination between police and judicial services.

Additional measures

On Wednesday, the government announced a further series of measures to offer women better protection.

They include evaluating how dangerous the perpetrator is before any easing of sentencing is made. This would involve a change in the law to ensure any lightening of the sentence is preceded by an expertise.

The number of emergency telephones will be increased to 3,000 by early 2022, up from the current 1,324.

The government also announced the "reinforcement of the control and possession" of weapons and a committee to monitor the measures, as well as the introduction of a conjugal violence file, shared and updated each time the police are called in to deal with a case of conjugal violence or when an formal complaint is lodged.

Meanwhile Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Elisabeth Moreno, promised "a plan to strengthen the use of the electronic bracelet" and to ensure that "women can file a complaint" in hospitals.

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