loading live map...hang in there
So we look at other things
1 Jul 2010
Published To

“There are more than 198,000 women raped each year in France... Domestic violence, pay attention, every two days a woman is killed.”

Collectif Féministe Contre le Viol. An organization launched in 1985 in response to a series of public rapes to which no passersby responded. Interviewed in July 2010.

So we look at other things

I was born during the war in 1941 during a time when women still didn’t have the right to vote in France. That is not so interesting today, but it’s necessary to always remember that the recognition of the rights of women in France is very recent, and we were helped a lot by England, the Nordic countries, and the United States.

We were much delayed, and we had the misfortune of having a Napoleon who conceived a Civil Code that deprived women of autonomy and made them dependent on their father or their husband. We can see similar occurances today among certain populations of the Maghreb.

I was born in a Parisian family, in Paris. My father was a doctor, and I was always active in the youth movements. I part of a Protestant parish in the center of Paris, beside the Louvre, which worked with the population of les Halles, the grand national food market for France.

I was the coordinator of families and individuals who were not my class, who didn’t share my culture, and who had very different social situations. It was an immigrant population, a working class population, and that was something that impacted me a lot. I was very happy in charge of this movement.

After, I was involved in an organization called SOS Amitié, which was the first telephone hotline in France. In England it’s called the Samaritan. It was first a telephone service put in place in England by a pastor who received a phone call over the weekend, which he didn’t answer. Someone had tried to reach him, a young girl. When he returned from his absence, he found out that this young girl had killed herself. He said to himself, “One must be able to reach someone at the moment one is in distress,” and he created this structure.

Here in France, it was opened with a team of people, including a pastor, and I worked in this service in 1962. There, we truly heard the isolation of people, their solitude, their distress.

Then, I got married, and I lived in a suburb in a big neighborhood in shared housing. It was a big concrete block. There were 148 lodgings and there were eight buildings like that. The people who lived there were active in an association against housing problems. Instead of paying for the apartment in money, they paid in hours of work.

Us, when we were newlyweds, we bought an apartment there that was not painted, in which people had lived for several years. They never had the money to paint it. It was rough, untreated, and bare.

I lived there and I had three children. I took them to school and I socialized. I loved to talk to people. I again met people entirely different from my culture, my class. In these encounters, one day, one of my neighbors, she told me, “It’s a catastrophe. I’m pregnant. Do you know where I can abort it?” She already had two children. One child and another.

I was scandalized that she asked me the question. We were on a little path together in the residence and this is what I did: I drew back. That troubled me a lot. I asked myself, Why? How could I respond that way? How can I be so insensitive?

I decided to go see the planning familial (family planning).[1] I had heard about the family planning. I went there, and I found it not very organized. I wasn’t pleased, but I said to myself, “Really, here is something to do,” and I went into the family planning. I went in the years ’70, and I stayed for twenty years. 

In France, we had three wars: In 1970, in 1914, 1940. The idea is that on the other side of the river, there are the Germans. It’s necessary to be stronger than them, more numerous. It’s essential that we make children. It’s terrible natalist politics, with a poetic repression of abortion and contraception. We guillotined a woman, for example, in 1944 for having performed abortions. We come from that, here in France.

So I was an activist. I did everything at the local level, departmental, regional. I was in charge at the national level for a dozen years and throughout, we brought the fight for the right to contraception, then the right to have abortions. That was a battle. I learned many things. I became feminist, voilà. I was not born feminist but I became feminist.[2]

Not at all like other associations, the family planning quickly became a public service. It was truly a service because we existed alongside a government who refused women free access to maternity. Notably, there was the question of sexual violence. If someone becomes pregnant after a rape, she’s going to come to family planning in France. The family planning was the place where one knew she was going to find a solution, even if it was outside of the law. We performed abortions at the center. It was the only recourse, so that brought an enormous amount of people.

To give you an idea of the government, for example, the law on contraception only passed in ’67, but in France, in order for a law to be implemented, it’s necessary to have decrees and the decrees passed years later in ’74. During all that time, what we did at family planning was walk on the law, around the laws.

I digress, but I think that one must have an idea of that because it’s inconceivable! That we see France as a developed country, developed in masculine power! Developed in masculine domination! The rights of man are the rights of the masculine. The famous revolution was for the Messieurs not for the Dames. 

And through all these contacts, all this work with women, sexual violence was so strongly present. 

The feminists mobilized themselves in the years ’75-80 to change the laws on rape. Rape was a crime since 1792, except there was no definition in the law. When someone said, “I was raped,” they said, “Hold on, hold on, would you really call it a rape?”

When there is no definition in the law, in France, it is juris prudence. It’s the decisions of different courts that serve as law. To give you an idea, one of the definitions was, “An illicit coitus with a woman without consent.” So “coitus” is a sexual relation. “Illicit,” but if it’s my wife, it’s my right. “With a woman,” no masculine form. “Without consent,” if she speaks English, if she’s asleep, I didn’t understand, then it’s not rape.

That means, for example, rape by sodomy, rape with objects in the vagina or anus, were attentat à la pudeur,[3] not rape. That’s to say, they merited a maximum of three or five years of prison and fines. So it was quite scandalous. Rape of men did not even exist.

There a strong mobilization during those years to change the law and we obtained a law that defined rape in 1980. The 1980 law defines rape as, “All acts of sexual penetration committed by a person to another by violence, threat, surprise or constraint.” With that definition, this famous victory of 1980, one can charge a husband for raping his wife.

There were charges. “Oh! Oh! It was the husband. Does the law really apply to husbands?” It took twelve years for that to apply. That’s to say, the cases always passed from one jurisdiction up to the cour de cassation.[4] In the end, they recognized that one can be raped by a spouse.

Then, in 2006, there was a law which brought improvements to a certain number of points regarding violence against women. There, it’s written that spousal rape is an aggravating circumstance. That’s to say, today, the spouse or  partner or husband who rapes his wife, it’s more serious than if it’s a stranger in the street. The ex-spouse, ex-partner, ex-husband, it’s more serious as well.

That’s not to say that a lot of women press charges. That’s not to say that a lot of husbands are convicted, but already, symbolically, in the spirit, women and men, something is written in the law, something is clear, and we fight justly.

Aside from that, in 1980, each feminist organization that mobilized against rape returned to their specialty—those to professional equality, others to the representation of women in public life, the family planning to its work on contraception and abortion, which still wasn’t working. Then, no one focused on rape anymore. 

Then it happened, in France, in 1985, in the month of May, in a RER,[5] a young girl was raped in a car where there were people present, and no one moved. There were several lines in a newspaper which said, “A young woman of seventeen…” Then, a few days later, a second rape on the platform of the RER-Châtelet[6]… If you have lived in Paris, you know how it is the platform of the RER-Châtelet at 6p.m, and no one came to her aid.

At that moment, the Maison des Femmes de Paris called the family planning saying, “It’s scandalous. Have you seen? It’s terrible. We must do something.” So we met.

Then, in between, a third rape occurred in public in the road on a Sunday afternoon close to the Gare de l'Est.[7] So we did a demonstration. 

With this wake-up call of 1985, we found ourselves asking, “What’s happening?” Paris is the capital and there is not even a place for victims of rape. It was very shameful. We must do something, so what are we can we do?

We can make a hotline. The telephone is good because she doesn’t see me. She can call when she wants. If what I say doesn’t please her, she can hang up. It’s anonymous.

There had already been telephones against rape in Paris. There had been several, but they were telephones that were only open two hours the third Thursday of the month, and it didn’t ring. We said, “We must do something that will be more stable so that it can be used by women,” and we went to see the minister of the rights of women.

It was Yvette Roudy,[8] a socialist woman, a true feminist. We announced to her that we wanted to do a hotline, and she began by saying, “A telephone hotline is a good idea. It will be free and you will open it the 8th of March 1986.” And that, that scared me.

It scared me because it was October ’85, and she asked us to open the 8th of March 1986. I was scared because in our team, there were very different people. There were very radical lesbians, there were the radical feminists, there were people who were very rigid and aggressive.

Some among them said, “We are here for women who press charges. All the others, we cannot help them. They are accomplices of the aggressor.” Then, on the other side, there is the family planning side, saying, “Oh, là, là, là, she was raped. Careful, softly. Pressing charges, it’s difficult.” You see a little mothering. And I think that a hotline, no matter the person who answers, it must be the same tone; it must be the same atmosphere; it be the same line. I found that we didn’t have a lot of time to agree amongst ourselves.

But when a minister says, “Yes,” you say, “Yes.” So we said yes. We did well to say yes because the minister in question, she was no longer the minister when the hotline opened, which worried us a lot because who is going to pay the operation of a free hotline, which she promised to pay? After, all the other ministers paid it. Good. That one did her work: She dispersed the phone number to all the police, all the gendarmerie,[9] the municipalities, the associations. There was a press conference, and our hotline rang, rang, rang, rang, rang.

We did not at all have the victims we were expecting. We expected to have women who were victims three weeks ago, two months ago, eight days ago, yesterday, this morning. We had women who were victims ten years ago, twenty years ago, forty years ago.

At that moment, two French books came out on incest, one of which was called “De la honte à la colère” [from shame to anger] which was a very important work written by Viviane Clarac who was the daughter of a diplomat, a diplomat who represented France in the United States, a diplomat who raped her for ten years, and she wrote a magnificent book. She helped us a lot to hear, to understand. The other was by a woman from the Grenoble region who was a victim of her father.

At the time, there was a television program advertised: “Debate on incest.” There was going to be a film and then a debate with specialists. During that time, there were not a lot of channels on the television, so one program right away attracted attention.

Before the program, we had an enormous amount of calls, but we didn’t have the option to be among the specialists on the program. They told us, “You are not specialists.”

We were not there but we asked to have our hotline number displayed “Rape, women, and information 0800 05 95 95.” During the program, I waited. I waited. I didn’t see our number. At the end, very late, they displayed the number but as a subtitle that moves quickly along the bottom. I was furious. I said to my husband, “No one would see that!”

But when I got off the elevator in the family planning premises, I heard the phone ringing. Fast, fast, I opened the door. I picked up the phone and the woman calling said, “Madame, it’s been thirty years that I’ve waited for someone to listen to me.”

From that moment, I began to lose my oie blanche; in French, oie blanche, it’s a person who’s lived in a bubble. You see, who has not seen the reality. 

Here, we see reality, the deadly reality of sexual violence. We see perversity; we see its infinite variance. From all these years, we discover, we learn, we see another method that was used to hurt a woman, how to destroy them, deprive them of their capacity to live.

So we have this hotline.

We began to have an enormous amount of calls about situations of family rape and the women were very surprised to learn that there were others. Each one said to herself, “It’s my fault. It’s me. It’s because I hugged daddy.” They really pressed us, saying, “We want to meet others who are going to understand us. That would be good.” Like that, we made support groups.

At the same time, the French government began to be interested in violence committed towards children. For the first time in ’84, in the Ministry of Family, there was an office for childhood victims of violence.


These officials interviewed other countries and what did they hear? That there is violence towards children in families, but there is also sexual violence. They said, “But how do you know there is sexual violence?” The other countries said, “Because we did presentations in classes, and we said, ‘There are things that people don’t have the right to do, even dads, even moms, and if this happened to you, it’s not your fault. They didn’t have the right to do it and you can talk to me about it. I am going to help you.’” Then, the children spoke.

Our officials said to themselves, “Without a doubt, if it’s like that elsewhere, it’s going to be like that here. We’re going to try it.” They returned with Quebecois materials. They brought Quebecois resources because the Quebecois are so kind to translate many things that come from the United States. We began to see material. 

One was a little video with a song, “C’est mon corps, c’est mon corps” [it’s my body, it’s my body], “My body is my body. You have yours so leave me mine.”

We asked if there were departments [10] who wanted to put that into play and two departments said, “Yes,” including Seine-Saint-Denis, which is close to Paris. The person who is actually the president of the Collectif Féministe Contre le Viol and a doctor in the Protection Maternelle et Infantile (PMI),[11] Emmanuelle Piet, was one of the people who tested that in the department Seine-Saint-Denis.

Today, in Seine-Saint-Denis, I think they have a hundred thousand adults who are trained to listen to children. Every year, there are committees in each district; there are talks given to classes. It’s extraordinary. The thing that is not extraordinary, unfortunately, is that it’s the only department that does it like that.

A law that passed in 1989 demanded it be done everywhere, but it doesn’t work well. In France, rape, sexual violence, we’d prefer that it didn’t exist, so we look at other things. We have a lot of difficulty being actually in action.

There are places, but it is not uniform. Here, we have this hotline. Already before opening the line, we had ideas about what we wanted to do. We wanted to listen, to come to the aid of a woman who seeks support, but especially, we wanted to, from what she confided in us, have ways to fight and ameliorate the handling of sexual violence in France.

From what we hear here, our preoccupation is always to construct tools, construct instruments to make things known.

From that date of the 8th of March 1986, we kept records of calls, and a couple of weeks ago, we were at forty-eight thousand eight hundred stories of rape that are written here in our files. From the files, we are going to do research. In our record of calls there is a manuscript part and there is a data part with the different items on the circumstances of the rape, the hour, the number of aggressors, the age of the victim, et cetera.

From there, we publish bulletins every two years on themes. For example, “Pregnancy after rape” or “Handicap and rape” or “Internet: New hunting grounds for sexual predators.” When we decide what item to cover, we search in the files for the figures that correspond.

Then, we really work so that the political powers take into account the issue of sexual violence.

One of our first political fights was entirely logical: Because on the hotline women talk to us about rapes that were perpetrated thirty years earlier, we saw right away that we had a problem with the statute of limitations.

In France, to be able to press charges and to have access to justice, there must be conditions. One cannot always, always, always press charges. There is a period during which they can.

We have three types of infraction. The least infraction, it’s one year to press charges. The more serious infractions, misdemeanors, one has three years. Crimes, one has ten years. I must go to the justice before ten years. If not, they won’t pursue anything.

It was evident that of all the women who called us from 1985 until 1990, 1995, we had mostly women who could no longer do anything because of the statute of limitations. Ten years and one day, finished. Our first struggle was to change the statute of limitations.

We were very badly received. When we presented it to the ministers, they explained to us, “It’s not possible. How to prove facts that are so old? One must leave it alone.”

Then, finally, we found the support of two officials who were officials from the Socialist party, one of whom was Ségolène Royal, a woman and the first woman candidate for the presidential elections in France. Two officials accepted it, and the law was prepared, it was discussed, and then one day, it came to a vote.

Those two officials had the amendment passed under the Child Protection Act of 1989, and it said “The statute of limitations of rape crimes by a relative or guardian begins at the legal age of the victim.” That’s to say, whether it’s been ten years after the fact, the statute of limitations is ten years after her turning eighteen. That would be twenty-eight years.

Then, we saw that even that wasn’t enough, so there were two other modifications and today, depending on the circumstances, we are at twenty years and sometimes even thirty, so it is a change.  A very big change but we have still a limit and for an adult victim, it’s only ten years.                                                                                    

After our calls, from what we learned, from what we discovered, we made films. The women in this support group who met here in the 80’s, victims of their fathers, they knew that we were beginning to be interested in these questions in a public forum, in a national way. They wanted to testify and we made our first film with them. We even made an English version of this film. It’s called “Incest, conspiracy, ears plugged.”

Conspiracy, it’s really that. Everyone aligns; they tell you, “It’s finished. It happened a long time ago. Now you are grown, don’t think of it anymore. I love you so much.” We realized that the victims often have a lot of difficulty seeing how the aggressor trapped them and to recognize that they did nothing wrong and it’s him who is responsible.

We made four films. Our last film came out last year on marital rape, which is again a type of rape that is not yet well known in our society. Even the victims sometimes say to themselves, “It’s normal. It’s my husband. I must accept.” Our film is for that. It’s to contribute to the discussion so that the women who confront this system might know that he doesn’t have the right to do that, that women have rights, and that we are going to help them. That’s a little the struggle we have.


Our hotline operates Monday through Friday from 10h until 19h. We are not an emergency service. Urgent is for the police or the hospital. We have about six to eight thousand calls each year, which fall into three groups. One type is women who call here for the first time. Another is women who are already in touch with us, who we support in their struggle to regain their psychological integrity, to re-find their balance, to regain their desire to live, their love for themselves. One type of call is professionals or the relatives and friends of the victim.

In these calls, a very important percentage concerns rape experienced as a minor. Those who call are of-age but they talk to us about rapes they experienced in childhood. It’s for that reason that it’s very important that the statute of limitations moved.

Our objective is for them to identify the strategy of the abuser. We're not listening like, “Oh, I am here close to you.” No, no, no. We have an outline for this interview. We are going to guide the person who calls.

We are going to guide the interview so that the person who calls us identifies when she was afraid. The victims, they always reproach themselves for everything. I should have done that. I should have done that. I shouldn’t have dressed like that. I shouldn’t have gone there. I said, “No,” but I didn’t say it loud enough. I didn’t say, “No.” It’s because I didn’t say, “No.” But when I identify the moment I was afraid, there, I begin to understand that I couldn’t have done anything differently. When I identify when I was afraid, I also need to identify, what did he do to make me afraid? That gives us an education on the mentality of the aggressor.

Then, the second thing that is going to come of this interview is identification of what humiliated her the most. What hurt the most? Because ultimately, what was the most humiliating, most painful is not necessarily what was the most brutal. For example, it could be the fact that after the rape, he kissed her lips. That is terrible because it is the confusion between aggression and consensual sex. Each abuser has his own system and it’s important to identify the humiliation and degradation because it’s something that is going to hinder her asking for help.

 Then the third thing the caller is going to identify is what did the aggressor put in place to secure the secret. All abusers do something. “You can say something, no one will believe you.” Him, tall, handsome, intelligent, lawyer, doctor, magistrate, she is no one. She thinks no one will believe her.

Those are our three points of support, and then it’s true that we work a lot in the institutional structures put in place by the state. There is an entire part for the improvement of laws. There is still work to do. 


To return to my personal path, after being here at the Collectif Féministe Contre le Viol, with this hotline, I wanted to go back to service to the state to share the reality with others. It was a reality I was lucky enough to know thanks to activism.

I went into the service of women’s rights, and I was at the regional delegation of women’s rights in Île-de-France under the direction of the regional officer. I was in charge of the fight against violence against women. I participated in all the departmental action commissions against violence for all the departments in Île-de-France. That allowed me to write a number of small booklets for more people to understand the law and understand the reaction of the victim.

For a long time, we worked uniquely looking at the victim: “The poor woman, she is not doing well at all.” Only, we must look at what the aggressor did, instead of just the result of what he did. Then, we saw it... Like in a laboratory, by changing our perspective, we saw the development of the system, the strategy of aggressors. They all do the same thing. Whether it’s a violent husband, a rapist father, a sexual harasser at work, or a pimp, they all have five main priorities.

The first priority is to isolate their victim. To isolate the victim, first he must choose her, the selection. She is deaf; she is mute; she is blind; she handicapped; she is incapacitated in some way—that’s an easy victim. He chooses his victim, the selection. Then, isolate the victim. That could be geographic, emotionally, socially, professionally, and that’s very efficient because if they are always only the two of them, who is going to help her? Who can she talk to? How can she find help?

Then, secondly, debase and humiliate, treat her like an object. With victims of rape, they can express, even the way he touched me is not like a person touches me. They are an object.  Then, there are all the little behaviors and all the words or all the silence. “A whore like you should say nothing.” That’s good because once he has done that, if she is a piece of shit, is someone going to listen to her? Does she have rights? Can she press charges? No one will believe her and what good will that do? Him, he is handsome, fat, invincible, happy. 

Third big principle, the abuser must not have a conscience that will wake him up at night. So he is going to transfer the responsibility to the victim. It’s not my fault. It’s you. This works very well in situations of sexual violence because all education of girls has been an education of “Protect yourself, prepare yourself, watch out, cover yourself." All of the sudden, he too transfers the responsibility, puts the guilt on the victim, and then if she is responsible, she is not going to press charges.

That allows the aggressor to come to his fourth preoccupation: Guarantee his impunity. To be happy, one must not be in prison, so to guarantee his impunity, that’s where we see extraordinary things. The first step is to recruit allies. Aggressors are entirely different with the police than they are in the house alone with his victim. It’s interesting to bring to the attention of social workers. A violent spouse, for example, his wife describes to us a guy completely furious, and when he comes to see the social worker, he is clean-shaven, “You have perhaps met my wife. She is not well. I am worried for her. Yes, you have noticed; she is agitated. Yes, it’s true that she is agitated! She is not being clear in telling her story.” Recruit allies. Present himself as all-powerful.

That works as well because if we really look at relationship violence, we have women who say, “It’s not worth pressing charges because him, he doesn’t give a fuck about the law. On the road, he goes 140. He doesn’t pay fines. He doesn’t pay taxes. That would do nothing.”

Presenting himself as all powerful, the victims of rape mention that quite strongly. When we come to the proceedings and she sees the rapist on the stand, often she says, “It’s funny. He’s a lot smaller” because at the time of the aggression, he presented himself as indestructible.

The final touch is obviously, seal the secret. That, for the impunity is wonderful because if she does not talk, he is fine. If you have an instructor who supervises your thesis, if it’s him who rapes you and if you denounce him, he goes to tell everyone everywhere that this girl there, she had a lot of promise, but she’s a liar, and you will have no career afterward. There were several large cases like that that had really ruined many young girls.

We also must remember while we see sexism as girls and women, it’s serious, it could also very well be the rape of a boy or man. It happens in areas like that.

When we had our first male caller, who was a victim of rape, I remember in the room, we looked at each other. We passed the phone to the oldest among us—a woman—who was as stupid as us. We knew it happened, but we never thought of it.

We work with victims on the hotline, even if it’s not a woman, but we are really focused on girls and women. We support initiatives of other places that are trying to create services for men. Especially the institute for psychotherapy of victims has been searching for years to form a support group for men victims of rape but they never have enough participants. You see, it’s complicated. That world is very hidden, very secret. There are also rapes in homosexual communities, in gay communities, about which we have no information.

Another problem is that the exercise of political power here encourages the appropriation of others. For example, in France, if the mayor of my city rapes someone, he is not immediately stripped of his duties as mayor. We had recently a deputy mayor of an arrodissement of Paris, who beat and raped his wife. The woman pressed charges. He was convicted, which is very good. He is still a deputy and he participated in the debates for the vote on last law on domestic violence, which was voted for on the 29th of June. Is that normal? You find that logical?

Conspiracy. Strong against the weak. It’s against women, but one could also say we protect parents over the children. When a child says something that bothers everyone, we ask him four times if that’s really what he said. The fifth time he says, no, it was not really that.

If I bring up Polanski [12] for example, that situation annoyed us a lot. The young girl, thirteen years old, she was drugged, drunk. That is not ok. Today, when they liberated him, there were many articles in the press and they all went back to a life filled with drama. For M. Polanski, they go back to his parents and his childhood to explain what he did. It’s true, it’s true, but it doesn’t excuse it.

That is where work must be done. There, also in France, I tell you, we’ve been insufficient in the oversight of perpetrators. 

Both of us we live in a village that has housed for a long time one of the biggest prisons in France. These penitentiary establishments are scandalously overpopulated, and the handling of the cases, such as having perpetrators reflect on what they did, it’s limited. You send a perpetrator there and when he gets out, he is not rehabilitated. He does it again.

There, truly, you say to yourself, but how, we are very involved in the prevention of violence?

You are going to say I am not giving a good image to my country but it’s the reality in France. 

For a long time, there was no psychological help aside from Freud. It was catastrophic in the beginning when we opened the hotline. The only person that was helpful for us was Alice Miller, [13] a positive therapist. Alice Miller was a Jewish Polish woman who escaped the destruction of the ghetto of Warsaw. She was a child. She took shelter in Switzerland, and her obsession became to understand how Hitler, this absolute monster, could have been helped by the German society, which was a cultivated society with philosophers, theologians, musicians, writers, poets. How could that happen?

She did a biographical analysis of the principal players of the Third Reich, looking at what their childhood was like. She found evidence for the impact of what she called the poisonous pedagogy. That’s to say, in the middle of the 19th century in Europe, the pedagogy was punishment. When we have not done something good, we must be thrashed. In Germany, it was really institutionalized. Horrifying things they did.

Alice Miller released her first book called “For your own good”—the childhood under terror—in which she analyzed how when your mother spanks you, you say to her, “You hurt me,” and the mother tells you “No, it’s so you become a nice girl, so you are sweet. It’s for your good.” What you felt is not justified, what she tells you is right, and so you are going to cut ties with your emotions. That, explains Alice Miller, allows me to do the same to my children because my mother did that, and I became a beautiful young girl.

She also showed how in Germany, there was a very strong resistance against Hitler. Those are the first they bumped off. The first extermination, it was the resistance. Where does the resistance come from? Those resisting went to the same schools as the Nazis, with the same culture. Only she noticed: When those who resisted were unjustly treated as children, there was always someone in their life who said, “They don’t have the right to lock you up for three days. It’s too much; you deserve more than that.” It’s what she called the helping witness.[14]

She explained that these witnesses allow you to protect your mental health. The witness could be a neighbor; it could be a teacher; it could be someone in the street who says, “No, Madame, really, you did not deserve that.” You have anew a refuge; you have anew a compass.

What helped us a lot here on the hotline is when she explained this to us. On the hotline, we felt very small when these women told us such horrible things. Alice Miller told us, “It’s huge what you’re doing because you say, ‘No, Madame, that, one does not have the right to do to you. That is unjustified, and you have the right to another life.’” And I assure you, we needed to be reassured because the oie blanche of my kind, we really questioned.

Perhaps what surprised me most on the hotline the first years, it was to hear women who expressed gratitude. While I have the impression that I did nothing, I hear in her voice, she feels better at the end of an interview than before. In fact, yes, I did a lot.

Military psychiatrists were our support as well. It was the military psychiatrists whose objective was to help the man who saw his friend killed beside him and courageously returned to the same place the next day. They looked at what he had inside him that allowed him to overcome.

Then, from the 90’s other therapists began to position themselves in relation to these therapies when helping rape victims, too. We had a wave in those years where all of the sudden behavioral therapy, trauma therapy gained an audience here, and we could be heard.

We participated in French victimology networks and the center of the victimology institute. We see that with brief therapies, we can really help women to find their ability inside themselves.

Finally, in the last few years, we see explanations for what we call the traumatic memories. Within the mechanism of traumatic memory, among people who have survived immense violence in childhood, a certain amount live with the ability to flourish, and then there are a certain amount who are going to find themselves with a new aggressor, and there is also a proportion of them who are going to become aggressors. We're learning about the impact of aggression; all the research they’ve been doing in the United States for twenty years, it is finally coming to us. Thank you, United States, with your huge statistics, your huge studies, your huge research. 

Me, what impresses me is all the international contributions from which we benefit, whether it be documents on the elements of a support group or the power and control wheel.[15] I am always speechless to think that there is a team on the other side of the world who made this extraordinary figure and that we use it. It’s that, the feminism. It’s universal: The famous five priorities. It’s extraordinary, the culture of domination.

Today, we have a team of eight young women who are salaried, full-time, to take the hotline calls and who do the listening, the gathering of pieces, the use of statistics, the production of articles for the newspapers, the bulletins. With them, we have a meeting every Tuesday afternoon for practical analysis.

We have a coordinator. We have a secretary. We have an administrative counsel with a president, secretary, treasurer and several others who represent the association.

Then, every other Monday night, we hold a meeting with the administrative council and the team of responders. An administrative council can very easily be far the reality on the ground, but we really want to bathe in that reality.

There are among us people of very diverse backgrounds who come through solidarity, through the action of the struggle. They are mostly young, at the level of the hotline responders. We think that the work on the hotline is not a life’s work. We can only do that for five or eight years. Following the calls is difficult. When we face atrocious situations and that nothing works—not the police, not the justice system, not the healthcare system, not the family—that’s hard. It’s for that reason we have young people. It’s important to us that they can leave here. We can't do this our whole lives. It’s not possible. Not possible.

Even so, we try always when we end a hotline interview on what is she going to do? Between now and the next time, what can she do? From that, can we find a direction? It’s that which is exciting because finally, we plant the sun.

I often find friends ask me: You work with that? I respond that these are exceptional places to see the force of life. We have not yet spoken of that, but the way in which a woman is a capable of rebounding, to re-start, to re-flourish after having gone through hell, that’s extraordinary.

When we work with her on the hotline and when we allow her to identify the strategy of the aggressor, it’s truly liberating. All of the sudden, it’s like he put a mask on her and then it comes off. Afterward, it might be necessary for her to have a lawyer, a doctor, a psychologist, but because she is there in front of you, you can already do something extraordinary. Me, what strikes me all the time here is when they say, “You believed me.”

Speaking out is very good.

Now, the feminists are waking up a little among the young people in France. A little bit ago, we met a group of young women who want to put in place a manifesto against rape. It is going to come out at the beginning of September. Their first demand was, “We no longer want to feel ashamed for being raped. It’s still us on whom you place the shame and we don’t want it.  We want to be able to say, ‘I was raped’ without the shame.” Without feeling stigmatized and dirty.

There are more than 198,000 women raped each year in France. There are maybe only five thousand, four thousand charges pressed. Domestic violence, pay attention, every two days, a woman is killed.

I remember when they had the conference of women at Peking, it was extraordinary because the thing that was the strongest link between women, it was the violence, the masculine violence. Originally, the Quebecois had an initiative with the march of Bread and Roses.[16] It began as a march where they demanded unemployment payments for women. It was against poverty. Then, at Peking, they presented a song, “Du Pain et des Roses ... pour changer les choses..." It was magnificent. They said they want to do something universal. To do something universal, one should not only do poverty, one must also do violence.

 It was entirely essential because if one looks at the distinction of masculine violence, it’s the same strategy everywhere, the same impact on women, and it’s the same method of reliving it afterward. While the quality of life in Burkina Faso or in India are scandalous, while the majority of humanity is in countries in difficulty, masculine violence is the extraordinary fundamental in all countries.

What is extraordinary also is that in all these countries where there are atrocious things, there are also groups of women who move, who try, who believe, who unite. There are women who struggle in the most difficult moments to help women victims. In Saudi Arabia, in Afghanistan, there are places, shelters. I find that everywhere we see this violence exercised in its most brutal and absolute forms, we find also in those places, women who respond.            

What is difficult is that it’s first women who react, and it takes time for the institutions, for the men to come along. There are some men because if not, we would never change the laws. No, there is solidarity. It’s that which I’ve felt these last thirty years here in France.

In ’85, the suffering, the sadness, the distress of women victims of rape didn’t interest anyone except the feminists. No one worked with victims of violence in therapy. One must take upon oneself, “il faut prendre sur soi.” That’s a French expression that means, “Don’t bother me with your woes, your sadness. Walk, see, there is still a sun. There, the hardship is finished.” That mentality bothered me a lot. 

It’s gotten better since the 90’s, but it’s gotten better more with domestic violence than with rape. Rape really scares people. We have trouble bringing sexual violence to the forefront. The only rapist who is recognized is the strange rapist in the parking lot who has committed fourteen aggressions and who is maybe also killed one. That rapist, everyone is afraid of him. That one is terrible. If someone is a victim of this type of rapist, one hears about it everywhere. But if someone is a victim of a normal rapist, one’s boss, one’s partner, one’s colleague, one’s peer, one’s father, one has trouble being heard.

On the hotline we listen.

Yes, yes, you are so brave to have spoken to me. You are so brave to have spoken to me. I believe you. He doesn’t have the right to do that. The law forbids it. That is not your fault. We’re going to get you help.


1. Planning Familial: State-supported health and counseling centers in France with both educational and medical services, especially in the realm of contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.

2. Jean-Paul Sartre's precept that existence precedes essence; hence "one is not born a woman but becomes one."

3. Attentat à la pudeur : Molestation.


4. Cour de cassation: In France, the highest court of civil and criminal appeal.


5. The RER: A rapid transit rail system in France serving Paris and its suburbs.

6.Châtelet: A station on lines 1, 4, 7, 11 and 14 of the Paris Métro in the 1st arrondissement.

7.Gare de l'Est: One of the largest and the oldest railway stations in Paris.


8. Yvette Roudy: French politician who supported the cause of feminism; served as Minister of Women’s Rights, mayor of Lisieux, an official in the European Parliament, and an official in the French department of Calvados.

9. Gendarmerie: Branch of the French Armed Forces in charge of public safety, with police duties among the civilian population.

10. Département: In the administrative division of France, the department is one of the three levels of government below the national level, between the region and the commune. They are subdivided into arrondissements.

11. Protection Maternelle et Infantile (PMI): System of protection for the health of mothers and children created in France in 1945 required by the Health Minister at the time, François Billoux.

12. Roman Polanski: A French-Polish film director, producer, writer and actor who was arrested for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old.


13. Alice Miller: PhD in Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology, researcher on childhood, and author of 13 books.

14. Helping/enlightened witness: Through a child’s experience of horrific childhood events and abuse, the person who loved the abused child, though unable to protect them, and whose presence gave them a notion of trust and of love.

15. Power and control wheel: Diagram of the various strategies used by an abuser to trap a victim within a systematic cycle of violence; illustrates the physical, psychological, social, emotional, financial, sexual, and other forms of violence exercised by the perpetrator in an abusive relationship. 

16. Bread and Roses: March first organized in 1995 by the Quebec Women’s Federation to protest against poverty. It was so successful, it evolved into a series of global women’s marches against poverty and violence against women.





















Community Justice Activism Advocacy
Comments (0)