French police face disciplinary hearings amid high numbers of femicide

·6-min read

Six French police officers face disciplinary hearings starting Tuesday accused of “administrative failings” in the gruesome case of Chahinez Daoud, who was killed by her husband last May. Daoud was one of 113 femicides in France in 2021, a number that continues to climb despite high-profile campaigns and government measures aimed at combating the violence.

Late in the afternoon of May 4, 2021, Chahinez Daoud stumbled out of her home on Avenue Carnot in the well-heeled Merignac neighbourhood near Bordeaux in southwestern France. The 31-year-old mother of three was being pursued by her estranged husband. He shot her in the legs a number of times and she fell to the ground. He took a can of flammable liquid from a van parked in front of their house, doused her with it and set her on fire. The fire brigade arrived shortly after 6.30pm but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her 44-year-old ex-husband fled before the authorities arrived. He was arrested half an hour later, almost 5 kilometres away in the neighbouring district of Pessac. At the time of his arrest he was in possession of a 12-gauge shotgun, a pellet gun and a cartridge belt.

Their children – ages 3, 7 and 11 – lived with their mother but were not at home at the time of the gruesome attack.

At the time of Daoud’s murder her ex-husband had already been convicted by the Bordeaux criminal court, in June 2020, of committing “intentional violence” against her. He received an 18-month sentence but was released the following December, although he was forbidden from making contact with his former partner.

France remains one of the European countries with the highest number of femicides per capita. It is estimated that at least one woman is killed by her partner or former partner every three days.

Just two months before the attack, Daoud had lodged a new complaint against her ex-husband. But the police officer’s report was illegible and was never properly forwarded to court authorities, according to a state review of how the case was handled.

“It is important to know that a third of femicide victims lodge a complaint with police before being killed – yet no real action is taken to prevent the crime from happening,” Maëlle Noir, a member of the national steering committee of the French feminist collective Nous Toutes (“All of us”), told FRANCE 24. “The French government is not taking enough measures to protect victims.”

“There is a crucial lack of training when it comes to taking complaints with regard to gender-based violence. This should be mandatory for anyone dealing with vulnerable people who come to them to report an attack or fear of an attack.”

The officer who took Daoud's complaint on March 15 had himself recently been convicted of "habitual intra-family violence", the public prosecutor's office said in July, confirming a report published in the weekly Le Canard enchaîné.

"We were informed on June 24 by the Bordeaux enforcement judge that one of the officials who took the complaint from Chahinez Daoud had himself been convicted of domestic violence," the Bordeaux prosecutor's office told AFP.

The officer received a suspended eight-month prison sentence and was in the middle of disciplinary proceedings when he recorded Daoud’s complaint. He was only moved from a post dealing with the public after she was killed.

>> FRANCE 24 on femicide: Our stories on violence against women

‘Administrative failings’

Eight months to the day after Daoud’s grisly murder, six police officers will appear before two disciplinary boards – in Bordeaux and Paris – on January 4. Four officers and police commissioners, including the departmental director of public security (DDSP), will present their accounts in Paris while two police officers will be heard in Bordeaux.

The latter are suspected of "administrative failings", said Eric Marrocq, regional secretary of the Alliance police union, in comments to AFP. "A review of the case by the disciplinary committee will make it possible to address doubts about their impartiality and professionalism," he explained. The four superiors summoned to Paris include the commander of the western division and the commissioner of Mérignac.

“It is good that the police will now know there can be repercussions. But it is not enough,” Julia* from the collective Féminicides par compagnons ou ex, told FRANCE 24.

“The problem is not just with the police, it’s the whole system. The judiciary also plays a key part. If the police do their job well and arrest someone, it is up to the judge to administer the right punishment. Instead, we have recidivists being set free too quickly and returning to attack again.”

113 women in 2021

In 2019, 146 women were reported killed by a spouse or partner, a 21 percent increase from the previous year. Following protests across France, the government introduced the use of electronic bracelets to alert victims when their attackers are nearby in September 2020. That year there was a drop in killings: According to figures on domestic violence from the interior ministry, 102 women and 23 men were killed.

Daoud was the 39th of the eventual 113 women who died at the hands of a partner or ex-partner in France in 2021.

From 8am to 8pm on January 1, 2022, there were three femicides in different corners of France. The first victim was stabbed to death by her partner in western France. A second woman was killed by her husband at home in the northeast and the third victim was strangled by her ex-partner and then hidden in the boot of a car in Nice.

“The start of a new year is always a tricky time,” said Julia. “People don’t want to be alone. They seek out partners even if they are estranged – it can be a very stressful time. We always see peaks during the holidays, both winter and summer. Men are reminded that they are not going to be with their families and they can find this very difficult to deal with.”

Noir from Nous Toutes believes a sea change needs to happen in the way that French society thinks about gender-based violence.

“It must happen across media, education, the judiciary – everywhere. We need to start thinking of it as a systemic issue rather than an individual issue. In the media, for example, femicides are often described as a fait divers (sensationalist news) rather than as a systemic, patriarchal issue. Education is clearly a key part of the change that need to happen.”

The collective Féminicides par compagnons ou ex has been recording all the femicides that happen in France for the past six years – 770 deaths since 2016.

“It is a difficult but necessary task to ensure that these women do not remain invisible, that they are named whenever possible and do not just become one of the many anonymous victims in a global annual figure that does not raise much concern or indignation among politicians or even society,” the group says on its Facebook page.

“These are not ‘family dramas’ or ‘breakup dramas’ or ‘crimes of passion’. These are conjugal femicides perpetrated by frustrated men who think they have a licence to kill.”

*Name has been changed

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