International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25th has been observed since 1981 to honour the Mirabal sisters, three political activists from the Dominican Republic who were murdered in 1960. But it wasn’t an official designated day until 2000, when the United Nations called on governments, international organisations and NGOs to collectively raise public awareness every year on that date.
Eight years later, the UN launched its UNiTE campaign, 16 days of activism against gender-based violence starting on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and running to International Human Rights Day on December 10th.
0800 91 90 10 Victims of Violence Monaco
3919 Violences Femmes Info France
Additional numbers listed at end of article.
According to femicide statistics from UN Women, in 2021 some 45,000 women or girls were killed by someone in their own family – that’s an average of more than five people every hour. In France that same year, the government reported 122 women were killed by their partner or ex-partner and 35% of them were victims of previous violence by their partner. In the UK, the Femicide Census’ most recent data estimates that a woman is killed by a man every three days – and 62% of them by a current or former partner.
Paris-based therapist Jill Bourdais became involved in helping victims of domestic violence after meeting fellow American Paula Lucas in 2010. She recalls, “Paula had been cruelly abused by her Palestinian – yes, alas – husband while living in the UAE with him. She had escaped and come to Paris to talk about her non-profit then called American Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center, which is now Pathways to Safety.”
As Paula was looking for people to help her spread the word, Jill at once volunteered, and organised a forum on the subject in Paris. Jill created a Domestic Violence Support Group soon after, which she hosted and led – “at first in a little space I own in our building but with Covid, switched to Zoom, which means women from all over France now join.”
Jill grew up in Boston and after college worked in journalism for several years before changing to psychology in 1977, doing a Master’s in New York and a DESS (Diplôme d’Études Supérieures Spécialisées) in Paris in 1981. “In 1968 I’d married a Frenchman I met in New York, which led to my moving to Paris. I have been working as a therapist ever since and have had lots of experience running groups and giving workshops.
For Jill, pinpointing the signs of domestic violence is tough. “As most women’s self-confidence is beaten down by abusers, this leads to a strong sense of shame. That means that they won’t share what they are enduring as they’ve been hearing for months or years that all is their fault,” she explains.
“Repetitive physical illness can signal abuse, as can depression or little remarks about the partner controlling all decision-making in the family, as control is an essential need of the abuser. If a friend or family member senses a problem, it’s probably best to start with unobtrusive questioning about the woman’s well-being, pushing the point little by little. Avoid remarks implying that all will be okay soon, or that some small fix on her part will make everything better.” Jill advises family and friends to read up on the web the signs of abuse which are often covert, in case your friend reveals some of them, not realising that she is, in fact, being abused.
“I think people often think that abuse means physical harm done to a victim. In fact, that is not always in the mix, whereas psychological, emotional and/or financial abuse are always present. Many, many people assume that an abuse victim can ‘just leave’ without factoring in the financial costs of that, the factors regarding uprooting children, the lack of family support in France, the ignorance of administrative procedures, poor command of the language, the lack of access to money, poor or no job prospects, and inability to return home if they have children!”
The Expat Web
Addressing the complexities of expat women, Jill says, “I cannot prove this, but my belief is that expat women who do not master French are at a considerable disadvantage with the police and with the justice system here. The procedures are long and arduous. If you manage to press charges, you never know if your report will be passed along to the prosecutor or just put in a file drawer, and you can wait for months before any action is taken. If you need a translator, he or she has to be court-approved, and can be good or incompetent. You are left out of any banter among those present.”
Jill strongly advises finding a lawyer who speaks English and has experience with domestic violence “or you will be badly represented”. She adds that even if you find the best lawyer, all outcomes depend on the judge you get, and therein lie many sad stories of judges who clearly take the side of the French abuser.
“The biggest trap is that expats who have children VERY rarely get to return with them to their home country, so they are condemned to stay in France until the child is 18. Many fathers who have never even changed a diaper sue for full custody to take revenge on their partners, and though full custody in either direction is rare, even fathers who abuse their children often obtain 50-50 shared custody.”
Women are invited to join Jill’s bi-monthly Domestic Violence Support Group which is run by volunteers. “It is for anglophones – from any country – as there are plenty of helpful associations for French speakers. We meet twice monthly for 2 hours, and attendees take turns explaining their situations. Others are invited to chime in when they have information or suggestions or questions. Usually between 3 and 7 people attend each time – not always the same women, though there are several ‘faithfuls’ who are important allies in the process.
“I do not charge for anything I do for victims, such as accompanying them to the police or to court hearings, writing attestations for court procedures, finding lawyers or useful associations in France which might help them, finding a therapist – I don’t generally act as a therapist for the women who attend my group – or just being there when they need to talk.”
On an administrative note, Jill is currently looking for a volunteer to take over the Domestic Violence Help Paris Support Group Facebook page, a private group which was created in 2020 by a volunteer who has since left. Anyone interested should email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Article first published on November 24, 2023. Feature photo: Flickr Marco Verch.
0800 91 90 10 Victims of Violence Monaco
3919 Violences Femmes Info France
HELPLINES AND LINKS
Victims of Offences Help Association (AVIP)
377 93 25 00 07 Monaco in English
SOS Help – Support in English in France
01 46 21 46 46
Feminist Collective Against Rape, English help available on request
Collectif féministe contre le viol (CFCV)
0 800 05 95 95
Listen Violence Against Disabled Women
Écoute Violences Femmes Handicapées (EVFH)
01 40 47 06 06
Federation 3977 Against Mistreatment of Seniors
Fédération 3977 contre les maltraitances
National Federation of Associations and Support Centres for Perpetrators of Domestic and Family Violence
Fédération Nationale des Associations et des Centres de prise en Charge d’Auteurs de Violences conjugales & Familiales (FNACAV)
08 019 019 11
France Victimes National Victim Assistance Number
National GAMS Federation – Group for the Abolition of Female Sexual Mutilation (excision), Forced Marriage and other traditional practices harmful to the health of women and children
La Fédération Nationale GAMS –Groupe pour l’Abolition des Mutilations Sexuelles Féminines (excision) des Mariages Forcés et autres pratiques traditionnelles néfastes à la santé des femmes et des enfants)
01 43 48 10 87