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Urgent Interventions

France - Press Release - Violence against Women


The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its concern regarding violence against women in France at the Twenty-Ninth Session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

Geneva, 3 July 2003

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women will today begin its examination of the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in France. In its alternative country report entitled "Violence against Women in France", which has been submitted to the Committee, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its grave concern at reports of torture of women and widespread violence against women in the private and community spheres.

Although France has enacted comprehensive legislation concerning the elimination of violence against women and promotion of equality of women, violence and discrimination against women persist in France. In particular, statistics indicate that 1 in 10 women in France are victims of domestic violence and as many as six women die every month as a result of violence perpetrated against them by their husband, boyfriend or partner. It has also been noted that these statistics likely underestimate the prevalence of this form of violence as many women victims of domestic violence are unlikely to report the crime.

The OMCT report pays particular attention to domestic violence in immigrant communities as immigrant victims of this form of violence face certain obstacles in escaping the cycle of violence. While the government does provide information on services available to domestic violence victims, this literature is oftentimes only written in French and most women immigrants do not speak French adequately to be able to make use of the information. Furthermore, many women immigrants have residency permits which are conditioned upon their continued marriage to their husband, meaning that if they leave a violent husband, they risk deportation back to their country of origin.

OMCT is also deeply troubled about reports of gang rapes in the suburbs of Paris, an area where many marginalized groups live. These rapes are commonly called tournantes or pass-arounds and oftentimes they occur in public places, like schools or train stations. Young girls are targeted for these gang rapes for a variety of reasons, including the fact that she has slept with her boyfriend, her presence at a nightclub or her decision to wear a miniskirt. Statistics regarding the prevalence of this crime do not reflect the magnitude of the problem as many young girls do not report out of fear and shame.

The OMCT report further notes that France is a destination country for trafficked women, often from West Africa or Eastern Europe. Many trafficking victims are forced into prostitution or domestic servitude. With respect to forced prostitution, the victim is frequently isolated and intimidated through both psychological and physical abuse, and it is reported that victims are subjected to gang rapes organized by the pimp as a way to “break the woman.” With respect to forced domestic labour, the victims are often forced to work long hours, seven days a week, and they are frequently not allowed to leave the house except to accomplish certain specified tasks.

OMCT is also preoccupied with reports of ill treatment of women in detention, both in prison and in detention centers for immigrants. Women have reported being harassed, physically injured and sexually abused while in detention and the conditions of detention centers are reportedly sub-standard.

Overall, OMCT’s report concludes that while France has a duty under international law to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish all forms of violence against women, irrespective of whether this violence is committed by public or private individuals, this obligation has not been adequately implemented at the national level.

For copies of the alternative report on violence against women in France or for further information on OMCT’s programme on Violence against Women please contact Lucinda O’Hanlon at + 41 22 809 4939 or
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