During a visit to a domestic violence hotline based in Paris on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron listened in on a call where the operator refused to help a woman who said she was in danger.
In a move that was supposed to demonstrate the French government’s commitment to ending domestic violence, Macron listened in on calls being taken by a hotline operator. At one point, a 57-year-old woman called the hotline, reports the Guardian, saying that her husband had threatened to kill her for years.
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She said she was at the local police station and had filed a complaint, but said police had refused to accompany her back to her home so she could safely retrieve her belongings before leaving.
The operator attempted to persuade police to accompany the woman to her home, telling the woman: “They must help people in danger,” Le Parisien reported. The police then incorrectly told the operator that they would need a judicial order to do so.
Macron remained silent while listening to the call, but wrote a note on a piece of paper and handed it to the operator.
“It’s the gendarme’s job to protect her when there is a clear risk,” and they do not require any judicial permissions, the note said.
The operator continued to press the officer, but police refused to comply.
Once the call was over, Macron asked, “Does that happen often?”
“Oh yes, more and more frequently,” the operator responded.
The Guardian reports that this operator has more than 20 years of experience.
The French “gendarmerie” or military police on Wednesday reportedly opened an investigation into the “failings” of police in the incident, which Macron stated highlighted a national lack of understanding around domestic violence.
The French media outlet RFI reports that 121 women were killed in France last year due to domestic violence and over 100 women have died in 2019 due to the same cause.
In response to the growing fatalities, Macron’s government has begun using the term “femicide” to describe these deaths, a term coined in the 1970s to refer to gender-related killings, the New York Times reports.
According to the most recent Eurostat data, more women are killed each year in France due to domestic violence than in Britain, the Netherlands, Italy or Spain. In Western Europe, only Germany and Switzerland had higher rates.
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Femicide is not currently recognized by the French criminal code, but Interior Minister for Gender Equality Marlène Schiappa said making the addition would be discussed in the coming weeks.
In response to these tragedies, the French government on Tuesday opened a national debate into the issue. Consultations began on Sept. 3 and will continue until Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
On Tuesday, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe also announced a number of measures to ensure that law enforcement handles domestic violence cases properly, including giving them tools to evaluate the danger of a woman’s living situation.