France Announces New Measures to Tackle Domestic Violence

PARIS — The French government unveiled new measures to combat domestic violence on Monday, amid growing awareness of the sometimes deadly toll it has taken on women in France.

But advocacy groups said that the proposals, which seek to protect women from violent partners and to encourage them to file complaints, lacked the funding to be truly effective.

Tens of thousands of people marched in Paris and other cities on Saturday to protest against gender-based violence in France, where last year 121 women were killed by current or former partners.

At the marches, participants wearing purple held up the names, pictures and ages of victims of domestic violence. A campaign of posters and graffiti around the country has also warned of an epidemic of “femicide.”

According to government figures, a woman is killed in France by a partner or former partner every three days, one of the highest rates in Western Europe.

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said on Monday — the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women — that for too long there had been a “collective silence” on the failure to address the problem.

“This silence kills, and continues to do so,” Mr. Philippe said at a news conference in Paris to outline the new measures, which came after months of consultations among French officials, lawyers, prosecutors and associations.

Mr. Philippe said the government would increase efforts in schools to raise awareness of gender-based violence, open a round-the-clock domestic violence hotline, hire more specialized social workers in police stations, and increase treatment of violent partners to avoid repeat offenses.

Every year in France, an estimated 219,000 women aged 18 to 75 are the targets of physical or sexual violence by current or former partners, but only 20 percent file official complaints, government statistics show.

Mr. Philippe, noting that women were often the target of psychological as well as physical violence, said that the government would also change the law to recognize that victims of abuse can be under the psychological control of their abusers, unable to act independently.

“By putting it into the law, we are telling these women, ‘You are not the origin of what is happening, you are the victims,’” he said, adding, for instance, that the government would impose harsher penalties for partners who harass and push women to attempt suicide.

Mr. Philippe said that the government would also work with doctors to ease confidentiality restrictions in cases where there is an “immediate danger” of renewed violence against the victim, enabling practitioners to flag cases to the legal authorities without a patient’s consent.

Currently, doctors can only do so when a patient is a minor or is “vulnerable,” a broad term that can refer to a disabled person, or when a person’s life is at imminent risk.

Some have balked at the idea, arguing that strict patient-doctor confidentiality is the only way women will feel comfortable coming forward with allegations of domestic violence. Gilles Lazimi, a doctor who is also a member of several women’s advocacy groups, told radio Franceinfo that the decision to report a case should rest with the victim.

“You have to accompany them in the long term, respect them, explain to them what the aggressor’s strategy is, enable them to talk,” he said.

Mr. Philippe had announced emergency measures in September, including auditing police forces to ensure that women’s complaints are taken seriously and creating a universal protocol to assess the danger of a complainant’s living situation.

France’s lower house of Parliament has also adopted legislation to increase the use of electronic bracelets to help judges and police officers enforce restraining orders. So far, only 1,000 such bracelets are expected to be deployed next year.

Parliament will examine other measures, including the potential for judges to suspend guardianship of children in cases of domestic violence. For those who kill their partners, such authority would be automatically stripped.

Advocacy groups have welcomed the surge in awareness of domestic violence, but on Monday they said some of the government’s measures did not go far enough.

Nous Toutes, or All of Us, one of the groups that organized the demonstrations on Saturday, said that some of the measures announced by Mr. Philippe, like training programs for teachers, already existed but lacked funding or were insufficiently applied.

“The disappointment is as high as the huge expectations that rose up these past months,” the group said in a statement. “We were expecting funding that showed a change in scale.”

Caroline De Haas, a prominent activist who is part of Nous Toutes, welcomed Mr. Philippe’s strong condemnation of domestic violence but said that he had failed to back up his words.

“He talks of major dysfunctions, he talks of a collective failure, but he does not draw any conclusions in terms of public policy,” Ms. De Haas said in a video statement.

At the heart of the disagreement is money. Mr. Philippe said that next year the government would spend 360 million euros, or nearly $400 million, on the fight against domestic violence. That is roughly the same amount as this year, advocacy groups say, but they were hoping for a substantial increase.

“We want one billion, not one million,” was one of the rallying cries during the protests on Saturday.

A report last year from the High Council for Gender Equality, a governmental advisory body, estimated that it would take at least 500 million euros annually to effectively reduce domestic violence.

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