PHOTOS: French women demand action amid high domestic violence rate

The word "violence" is pasted onto a wall by a group of women in a dark street in Paris. In Paris and cities across France, the signs are everywhere. "Complaints ignored, women killed" and "She leaves him, he kills her," they read in black block letters pasted over stately municipal buildings. Under cover of night, activists have glued them to the walls to draw attention to domestic violence, a problem French President Emmanuel Macron has called "France's shame." (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)

LES MUREAUX, France — Sylvia. Dalila. Aminata. Céline. Julie. Their names are plastered on buildings and headlines across France, calling attention to their shared fate: Each was killed, allegedly by a current or former partner this year.

More than 130 women have died from domestic violence this year alone in France, according to activists who track the deaths.

European Union studies show France has a higher rate of domestic violence than most of its European peers. And frustrated activists have drawn national attention to a problem President Emmanuel Macron has called “France’s shame.”

Under cover of night, activists have glued posters with the names of the dead and calls to action to French city walls. “Complaints ignored, women killed,” read the black block letters on one such sign. They have also posted anti-violence slogans, tagged with Macron’s name.

By the hundreds, women have walked silently through city streets after each new death.

Two years after Macron made a campaign pledge to tackle the problem, his centrist French government has begun to act.

Women go to paste slogans on the Palais de Justice courthouse in Paris. About 300 women across France pasted slogans at the same time overnight from Sunday to Monday on courthouses in 27 different French cities to denounce the alleged inaction of the French government and demanding justice about femicides. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)

A Justice Ministry report released earlier this month acknowledged authorities’ systematic failure to intervene to prevent domestic violence slayings. On Monday, the government will announce measures that are expected to include seizing firearms from people suspected of domestic violence, prioritizing police training and formally recognizing “psychological violence” as a form of domestic violence.

Women are not the only victims of domestic violence, but French officials say they make up the vast majority.

Lawyers and victims’ advocates say women are too often disbelieved or turned away by French law enforcement. But they’re encouraged by the new national conversation, which they say marks a departure from decades of denial.

“In France, we always have the impression that we are perfect,” activist Caroline de Haas told The Associated Press.

A 2014 EU survey of 42,000 women across all 28 member states found that 26% of French women respondents said they been abused by a partner since age 15, either physically or sexually.

Lea, 22, a fashion student from Angouleme has her hands covered in paint after repairing a damaged slogan in Paris. France, a country that has prided itself on gender equality, is beginning to pay serious attention to its yet-intractable problem of domestic violence. This year alone, at least 130 women have been killed by their current or former partners, anti-domestic violence groups say. Activists have pasted signs all over Paris to pressure authorities to do more to help victims, whom they say law enforcement too often fail to protect. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)

That’s below the global average of 30%, according to UN Women. But it’s 4 percentage points above the EU average and the sixth highest among EU countries.

Half that number reported experiencing such abuse in Spain, which implemented a series of legal and educational measures in 2004 that slashed its domestic violence rates.

Conversations about domestic violence have also ratcheted up in neighboring Germany, where activists are demanding that the term “femicide” be used to describe such killings.

A Justice Ministry report released earlier this month acknowledged authorities’ systematic failure to intervene to prevent domestic violence slayings. On Monday, the government will announce measures that are expected to include seizing firearms from people suspected of domestic violence, prioritizing police training and formally recognizing “psychological violence” as a form of domestic violence.

Women are not the only victims of domestic violence, but French officials say they make up the vast majority.

Lawyers and victims’ advocates say women are too often disbelieved or turned away by French law enforcement. But they’re encouraged by the new national conversation, which they say marks a departure from decades of denial.

Sarah stands next to slogan reading "Their hate, our dead" in Paris. Under cover of night, activists have glued slogans to the walls of buildings to draw attention to domestic violence, a problem French President Emmanuel Macron has called "France's shame." (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)

“In France, we always have the impression that we are perfect,” activist Caroline de Haas told The Associated Press.

A 2014 EU survey of 42,000 women across all 28 member states found that 26% of French women respondents said they been abused by a partner since age 15, either physically or sexually.

That’s below the global average of 30%, according to UN Women. But it’s 4 percentage points above the EU average and the sixth highest among EU countries.

Half that number reported experiencing such abuse in Spain, which implemented a series of legal and educational measures in 2004 that slashed its domestic violence rates.

Conversations about domestic violence have also ratcheted up in neighboring Germany, where activists are demanding that the term “femicide” be used to describe such killings.

This is particularly true when women receive threats but not yet physical blows, victims say.

Officers “absorb this violence into the category of violence between a couple that is going through a difficult period,” said one woman whose ex-husband repeatedly threatened her and their children. She spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

The woman divorced him after years of what she describes as psychological abuse that left her “terrified to cross him.” His threats only grew worse from there, she said.

She filed multiple complaints, but she said police officers suggested she didn’t seem like a victim or wasn’t able to prove that she was in danger.

Earlier this month, Boulard led the first supplementary training on domestic violence for police in the Paris suburb of Les Mureaux. She emphasized to the eight officers there that among victims, “shame is an extremely strong feeling.”

Clivia, 24, a sales representative from Paris waits for a subway train with her colleagues to paste anti domestic violence slogans on the Palais de Justice courthouse in Paris. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)

Participants traded stories of issues they had encountered: the surge in complaints on Sundays, the woman who retracts her complaint, the partner who insists everything is fine.

“We can’t do anything,” one female police officer complained.

Boulard told The AP that the three-hour session aimed to help officers understand the pressures that victims face and “why the victim is not what they imagined, why sometimes they don’t correspond with the criteria they expect to see.”

Trainings like Boulard’s take place in some parts of France, but regional authorities can decide whether to hold them. Activists hope they’ll become routine.

“A year or two ago, no one used the word ‘femicide’ apart from feminist organizations,” Haas said. “There is very much a change in public consciousness.” (AP)

Photography by Kamil Zihnioglu/AP

Photos taken on October and November 2019

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A group of women walk down a staircase after a meeting before pasting slogans on walls and edifices on the streets in Paris. In Paris and cities across France, the signs are everywhere. "Complaints ignored, women killed" and "She leaves him, he kills her," they read in black block letters pasted over stately municipal buildings. Under cover of night, activists have glued them to the walls to draw attention to domestic violence, a problem French President Emmanuel Macron has called "France's shame." (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
From left to right, Pauline, Clivia, France and Lea paste a slogan on a fountain reading " Femicides : guilty state, accomplice justice" in central Paris. About 300 women across France pasted slogans at the same time overnight from Sunday to Monday on courthouses in 27 different French cities to denounce the alleged inaction of the French government and demanding justice about femicides. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Maya, 19, a student from Versailles pastes a slogan with the name of French President Emmanuel Macron in the evening in the south of Paris. France, a country that has prided itself on gender equality, is beginning to pay serious attention to its yet-intractable problem of domestic violence. Under cover of night, activists have glued slogans to the walls to draw attention to domestic violence, a problem French President Emmanuel Macron has called "France's shame." (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
In this Oct. 23 2019 photo, a woman paints some slogans against domestic violence in the stairwell of a building in Paris. Domestic violence rates in France are higher than those in many other European countries, and activists say authorities often fail to protect women. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
A woman paints some signs before pasting them on buildings in the streets of Paris. Under cover of night, activists have glued them to the walls to draw attention to domestic violence, a problem French President Emmanuel Macron has called "France's shame." (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Lea, Pauline and Clivia, from left, walk past a slogan they recently pasted on walls of the Palais de Justice courthouse reading " Femicides : guilty state, accomplice justice" in Paris. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Lea, 22, a fashion student from Angouleme poses for a portrait in Paris. Lea feels privileged among others because she never experienced any violence in the past. Participating in this movement by pasting slogans in the street, is for her essential for fighting against domestic violence. Activists have pasted signs all over Paris to pressure authorities to do more to help victims, whom they say law enforcement too often fail to protect. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Mathilde, 31, a jewelry student from Marseille, poses for a portrait in Paris. Mathilde experienced domestic violence when she was 21. Ten years later, she finally took back control of her life. Pasting is for her the way not to be a victim anymore and take back control of her fear. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Maya, 19, a psychology student from Versailles holds her phone showing a map of Paris as she explains how the women of the movement divided Paris into five different pasting zones. Activists have pasted signs all over Paris to pressure authorities to do more to help victims of domestic violence, whom they say law enforcement too often fail to protect. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
A woman casts her shadow as she waits for the letters she painted to dry in Paris. This year alone, at least 130 women have been killed by their current or former partners, anti-domestic violence groups say. Activists have pasted signs all over Paris to pressure authorities to do more to help victims, whom they say law enforcement too often fail to protect. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Cindy, 36, a head waitress from Paris poses for a portrait in Paris. Cindy witnessed domestic violence with her neighbors when she was a child. Today she's a mother of a 13 year-old daughter and participating in sign-pasting is for her an easy way to be an activist. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Julie, 30, a PHD in History of Art from Nantes poses for a portrait in Paris. Tired by the inaction of the French government, pasting slogans is for Julie an easy way to be an activist and gives her some empowerment. Activists have pasted signs all over Paris to pressure authorities to do more to help victims of domestic violence, whom they say law enforcement too often fail to protect. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Sarah, 23, a stylist from Paris poses for a portrait in Paris. Sarah felt privileged over other women because she never experienced any form of violence. For Sarah, the time has come for action rather than words. Activists have pasted signs all over Paris to pressure authorities to do more to help victims of domestic violence, whom they say law enforcement too often fail to protect. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
France, 55, a self-employed worker from Paris, poses for a portrait in Paris. France has never been an activist in her past. Her daughter introduced her to the pasting group after France experienced some domestic violence at the hands of her former husband. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Mathilde, 35, a musician from Paris, is reflected in a window as she poses for a portrait in Paris. After Mathilde experienced domestic violence when she was 20 years old, she feels today like a survivor. The police's inaction in her case, propelled her to become an activist by pasting signs in the streets. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Maya, 19, a student in psychology from Versailles poses for a portrait in Paris. After living with domestic violence with her past boyfriend, Maya needed to find a way to give a meaning to her life. By pasting some slogans in the street, she found the strength not to be afraid anymore. (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Sarah stands next to slogan reading "Their hate, our dead" in Paris. Under cover of night, activists have glued slogans to the walls of buildings to draw attention to domestic violence, a problem French President Emmanuel Macron has called "France's shame." (Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)

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