French women accuse police of downplaying rape

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Four years after the #MeToo movement, French victims of gender-based violence are still fighting for justice, and the police are accused of not taking their complaints seriously.

In recent weeks, France has been hit by a wave of new stories of sexual assault and harassment. This time around, the complaints focus on the way the police treat women who come forward to report assault or abuse.

The protest was sparked by an Instagram post by feminist Anna Toumazoff recounting the experiences of women reporting attacks at the main police station in the southern city of Montpellier.

Toumazoff described how the police stigmatize, humiliate and make victims feel guilty, two years after the government launched a major campaign to train officers in handling gender-based violence cases.

“In France, the police ask rape victims if they had an orgasm,” Toumazoff tweeted, referring to the case of a 19-year-old woman who reported a rape in early September.

Toumazoff claimed that rape victims were told that a person who had been drinking had “automatically consented” to having sex and that they “should not destroy lives” by pressing charges against their attackers.

Montpellier police on the quay

The allegations prompted thousands of abuse victims across France to share stories of derogatory or derogatory treatment by the police, using the hashtag “DoublePeine” (twice victimized).

The state representative in the Hérault region, where Montpellier is located, threatened Toumazoff with a libel suit.

But the government of Emmanuel Macron, which has made the fight against violence against women a key theme of his presidency, lent a more understanding ear.

Last week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reported that around 90,000 police officers had received training over the past two years to handle abuse cases with empathy and sensitivity.

But he admitted there was “certainly” room for improvement and promised an investigation into the Montpellier complaints.

Echoes of #MeToo

There have been several French offshoots of the global #MeToo movement breaking taboos around sexual harassment and assault.

In 2017, the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc (Expose Your Pig) was used by thousands of women to post stories of abuse.

Three years later, a scandal involving a prominent intellectual accused of sexually abusing his teenage stepson prompted thousands of people to share heartbreaking accounts of abuse within families, using the slogan #Metooinceste.

Recognition of abuse has spread to cinema, politics and elite universities in a country where seduction was traditionally considered an integral part of French culture and women who complained of harassment were often branded as Puritans.

‘He is not a child molester’

On the website doublepeine.fr, hundreds of women describe their struggle to get the police to take their cases seriously.

One said she was raped on a date and was later told by police that she should withdraw the complaint because her attacker had “suffered enough” when called for questioning.

Another woman claimed that the police ignored her repeated allegations of domestic violence on the grounds that her husband “was not a child molester”.

Faced with such attitudes, several women said they withdrew their complaints.

Bring lawyers

Fabienne Boulard, a senior police officer who trains her colleagues on how to handle domestic violence cases, admitted to AFP that the police response “was not yet the best.”

Officers still needed help solving complex problems like the psychological violence that often accompanies domestic abuse cases, he said.

Darmanin proposed sending officers to meet the victims in a safe place to register their complaint rather than forcing them to go to the police station.

But the feminist group #NousToutes (All of Us) said the problem was not where, but how the police interacted with the victims.

A group of around 100 lawyers has lobbied the government to allow rape victims to bring a lawyer when they file complaints, and the minister for gender equality, Elisabeth Moreno, said she is “favorable” to the idea.

(AFP)