Ernestine Ronai, a life of commitment against violence against women

SHE. When did the issue of violence against women begin to be taken seriously by the public authorities?

Ernestine Ronai. As far as recent history is concerned, I would say in the 90s with, in 1992, the fact of making a violent spouse an aggravating circumstance. Then there was the law of 2006, and finally, that of 2010 which marks a turning point in the way of looking at violence, for two reasons. The first is because we think of protection before the commission of new violence, thanks to the protection order and the establishment of the grave danger telephone. The second reason lies in the title of the law: it is “violence against women, violence within the couple and impact on children”. This is the first time that children are taken into account. This law is, in my view, revolutionary, because instead of thinking about punishment, we think first about protection. It was completely new in French law and I still advocate it today.

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SHE. 122 women died as a result of domestic violence in 2021. Among them, around twenty had filed a complaint. How can these shortcomings be explained?

RE Among the 122 women who were killed, in fact, a third were victims of known previous violence, and among this third, there are three quarters who reported themselves to the forces of the army. order, and among them, 80% had lodged a complaint. These are the ones we could have saved. Those who stood out. On the side of the perpetrators, a fifth were already known for domestic violence and a quarter were already known for acts of previous violence. For all these cases, only two protection orders had been put in place and only one judicial review. What does it mean ? That the means of justice are very insufficient. Moreover, we must not forget that beyond the 122 dead women, there were also 190 attempts at feminicide. I would add that it is estimated that 209 women committed suicide as a result of domestic violence. That is 521 women who were killed, nearly killed or killed themselves. I don’t include failed suicide attempts, with permanent disabilities linked to violence. We realize that the figures are largely underestimated. That’s far more than one woman killed every three days.

There would be more women who would reveal the violence, if they weren’t afraid of what happens afterwards.

SHE. How to encourage female victims to come forward?

RE Thinking of protection separate from punishment. Protection must intervene as soon as violence is revealed. On the other side, there is of course the presumption of innocence. Punishment must come later. It’s longer, because it requires an investigation. At the national level, I chair the steering committee for the protection order and I advocate the idea that the 3,400 protection orders granted in 2021 should be multiplied by 10. To be truly protective and encourage women to reveal the violence they suffer. This order prohibits the aggressor from coming into contact with the victim. It allows the allocation of housing to the victim, because wandering with your children is a horror. We must stop telling women “leave!”

For those who can stay in the housing because the environment and the memories are not too dramatic, you really need to assign them the housing right away. This is possible thanks to the protection order issued by the family court judge, or within the framework of a judicial review ordered by the prosecutor. There would be more women who would reveal the violence, if they weren’t afraid of what happens afterwards.

SHE. Isn’t it also the fear of not being believed?

RE We’ve made a lot of progress in this area, but we haven’t gotten there yet, to say the least. The interest of the protection order is that it allows the allocation of housing, the prohibition to enter into contact, the decision of child custody, parental authority, hide the address, legal aid and, for migrant women, the automatic attribution of papers, so we see that it is very protective. This is something that deserves to be better known to the general public. And even lawyers who are still too few to ask for it today.

Society must think about the unpredictability of the dangerousness of violent men.

SHE. Is that what makes you say that the culture of protection is not widespread in our country?

RE The question is how can we think of danger? The danger is something very arbitrary. Because violent men are unpredictable and dangerous. This is probably why so few women made themselves known before being killed. Because they themselves perhaps did not see the danger. They were afraid, that’s one thing, but they didn’t see the danger until death. Society, in general, must think about the unpredictability of the dangerousness of violent men. And to think that maybe they’ll take action. The current debate on the slap is enlightening: there is no minor violence. Before the physical violence, there was often psychological violence. These hurt, it can break someone. There is sexual violence. Even today, they are minimized. Marital rape is an aggravating circumstance. It exists in the law. The slap is voluntary violence, it exists in the law. And if it’s every day, it’s habitual willful violence and it’s within the law. The law thinks about things, which is a pity, it is that in the collective thought, we are still minimizing things, insults, slaps, jostling, etc…

SHE. Can we spot a violent man before he acts out?

RE We identify the mechanisms of violence. If we look at it, we see that psychological violence always precedes other forms of violence. We had a JAF (Family Affairs Judge) in Seine-Saint-Denis, who is now president of the Meaux court, who said that when she felt violence, she asked “Who does the shopping? The man would often reply proudly, “It’s me, I’m doing the shopping.” “And Madam, do you have means of payment, can you go out as you wish? she continued. It was a way of spotting violence. In the training, we talk about the mechanisms of violence, psychological, economic, sexual, administrative. All the work of the investigators is to locate all that.

If we manage to secure a victim in a sustainable way, there will be a drop in feminicides

We know the aggressor’s strategy. His problem is not being caught, it’s impunity. He isolates his victim from his family, his relatives to cut him off from his environment. So, the relatives end up saying to themselves, “We’re fed up, she never comes, she snubs us.” The goal is to prevent the victim from getting help and not having any perspective on what they are going through. Then there is the devaluation, the humiliation. The perpetrator of violence will reverse the guilt. He will justify himself by saying, “It’s true, I slapped you, but your steak was undercooked.” It seems innocuous but there are plenty of women who are killed for overcooked meals… He absolves himself of responsibility and she blames herself.

And then there is family terrorism. The whole family is tense and wonders what will happen in the evening, when the perpetrator of the violence returns. This family terrorism aims to break the victim. To scare, it paralyzes the other. The aggressor will dissuade his victim from revealing the violence: “If you talk, they won’t believe you, they will take the children from you.” He will try to be friendly with the judge, with the policeman. On the other side, we will have a very tired and very angry woman, who will not necessarily be very sympathetic and we will say to ourselves: “But how does he manage to put up with her?” The aggressor’s strategy is both very constructed and very intuitive, with a single goal: to aim for impunity.

I think that if we managed to do a real communication campaign on these mechanisms, we would have more women who reveal. What is symptomatic is that in 2020 during confinement, we had 20% fewer women killed. It is not a coincidence. At that time, we thought that the house was becoming the place of all dangers. There was a remarkable communication campaign with messages hammering the emergency numbers. There were, as a result, more than 30% of reports. I’m sure it saved lives. The women knew where to call, who to call, there were notices in the halls of buildings… This type of work should be resumed. There are serious danger phone today. By the end of the year, there will be 5,000 in prosecutors’ offices. For 2023, they have planned 7,500. That means it’s getting stronger. The telephone is a technological tool that must be accompanied by human and social support. If we manage to secure a victim in a sustainable way, we will have a drop in feminicides.

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