Wednesday, July 6

The trial against the woman who killed her abuser reopens the debate on sexist violence in France

This Monday began the trial against Valérie Bacot, a French woman accused of killing her stepfather turned abusive husband. Bacot has admitted to shooting him to death and believes she should be punished for it.

The trial will last a week and the defendant is expected to tell in her defense at the Chalon-sur-Saône (Burgundy) hearing how Daniel ‘Dany’ Polette made her life hell from the day he raped her when she was 12 years old until the day he died 24 years later while prostituting her.

Bacot, who had four children with his alleged abuser, has related on the first day of the trial that he had not wanted to kill him, but to protect himself from him. The defendant also alleges that when the children went to the gendarmerie twice to report the abuse, they were told to leave and to tell their terrified mother to come herself. The woman alleges that she had nowhere to go, no one to turn to, no money, and that she was so under Polette’s control that she had no idea how to escape her daily terror of threats and violence.

The trial will again shed light on sexist violence in France and comes after a week in which three women have been murdered by their ex-partners in a country that has one of the highest European rates of femicide – classified here as murder. of a woman at the hands of her current or former partner. So far this year, at least 55 women have been murdered by their current or former partner in France.

In May, Fayard, one of France’s best-known publishers, published Bacot’s story: ‘Tout le monde savait’ (Everybody knew it). The book is a difficult read: 198 pages detailing the relentless misery that began when Bacot, whose alcoholic mother and largely absent father, divorced. She was 12 years old and her stepfather Polette forced her to have sex. At the time she says she had no idea what she was doing and that she only realized it after a biology lesson at school.

Polette was jailed for incest in 1995, but was allowed to return to the family home after three years and continued to rape Bacot. “Nobody thought it strange that Daniel returned to live with us as if nothing had happened,” he writes. “Everybody knew it, but nobody said anything.”

He soon raped her again. One day she heard her mother say, “I don’t give a damn as long as she doesn’t get pregnant.” At 17 she became pregnant and Polette installed her in an apartment as his wife. Three more children followed, along with almost daily beatings.

Bacot writes that she and the children lived in fear of provoking Polette’s ire. He broke her nose, hit her on the head with a hammer, organized lesbian encounters that she recorded and made him practically her prisoner. She wouldn’t let her talk to anyone when she went shopping and made her friends and family spy on her, she says.

So Polette decided to retire and prostitute Bacot. She remembers that her youngest son found a card that Polette had made and asked what “escort girl” meant. Polette prostituted his wife in the back of his Peugeot 806, to which he put a mattress, while he spied on her with clients and gave her instructions through a headset. He was carrying a gun, he said, in case a customer got aggressive. If Bacot didn’t do what he demanded, he beat her, he told investigators.

On March 13, 2016, after being raped by a client, she took the gun that her husband was hiding between the car seats and shot him.

“It is about a woman destroyed and devastated, not only by the lack of maternal love, rapes, beatings, denigration, prostitution, but also and above all, by the indifference and omerta of society”, write the Bacot’s attorneys, Janine Bonaggiunta and Nathalie Tomasini, in the preface to the book.

“From her earliest age she was subjected to terrible things without anyone, not even her relatives, blinking. They ignored her anguish and her ordeal, which could be read on her face. The story of her life is truly distressing.”

The case reminds of Jacqueline Sauvage, which became a cause notorious for activists against violence against women and girls. Sauvage was married for 47 years to a violent alcoholic who, according to her, raped and beat her and her three daughters and abused her son. In September 2012, the day after her son hanged himself, Sauvage shot her husband.

Tomasini represented Sauvage and appealed to the court to “expand the limits of legitimate defense applied to situations of spousal violence”, but was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 2016, after three years in prison, she was pardoned by the then president, François Hollande, and released.

The prosecutor argues that Bacot’s act was premeditated. In the book Bacot says that she was afraid that Polette was planning to abuse her teenage daughter and that she had said to herself, “This has to stop. This has to stop.” Bonaggiunta, a defense attorney, argues that Bacot shot her husband because “it was a matter of survival.”

“You could argue that it was premeditated, but it was about a woman who had been bullied all her life, he controlled everything and this was the only way he could get out of this situation,” Bonaggiunta told The Guardian before the start of the judgment.

“The legal texts are clear: she killed him. Unlike Canada, there is no legal text here that protects women like this who have been abused for years and that is taken into account,” he said. It is clear that she had been hit repeatedly and that her brain was not working well at the time. He was certainly in an altered state. To some extent, it could be argued that he had no choice. ”

In her book, Bacot says she is often asked why she didn’t leave her husband. “I think that if you have not lived this kind of life it is difficult to understand. When your daily life is a series of blows, threats, insults and humiliations you end up being unable to think … your partner has brainwashed you and you think that everything what he says is true. You think that you have the problem and not him and that you deserve everything that happens to you, “he explains.

Bonaggiunta, specialized in cases of sexist violence, assures that there is an “apathy” in society about helping women and their children to escape from their abusers.

“When I heard this story, the first thing I thought was that this started with a girl who did not receive help and who was the victim of violence in which her parents were complicit,” he said. “She killed him, but she was not a murderer. She was the victim.” Bacot’s trial will last a week.

Translated by Javier Biosca