The Many Faces of Everyday Violence Against Women

[All links in French unless otherwise stated]

In poor countries and in rich countries, in peace and in war, women are subjected to violence by their fathers, brothers, or those who once claimed to love them.

In 1999, on the initiative of the World Health Organization, the United Nations General Assembly adopted November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The origin of the date goes back to 1960; on that day in the Dominican Republic, on the orders of dictator Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961), the three Mirabal sisters [en] were brutally assassinated because they were regarded as political opponents.

Factsheet N°239, published on WHO's website in September 2011, provides some worrisome data [en] collected in a global-scale study:

The WHO Multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women in 10 mainly developing countries found that, among women aged 15-49:

  • between 15% of women in Japan and 71% of women in Ethiopia reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime;
  • between 0.3–11.5% of women reported experiencing sexual violence by a non-partner since the age of 15 years;
  • the first sexual experience for many women was reported as forced – 17% in rural Tanzania, 24% in rural Peru, and 30% in rural Bangladesh.

But it would be a mistake to think that this phenomenon is limited to poor countries in Africa, Asia, or Latin America.

Manifestation du 8 Mars à Dhaka pour l'élimination de la violence à l'égard des femmes

March 8 (International Women's Day) demonstration in Dhaka, on Wikipedia under license CC-BY-2.0

Domestic violence

Womann's World sheds some light on the extent of one aspect of violence against women in France:

Selon les chiffres officiels, une femme sur 10 est victime de violences conjugales et une femme meurt tous les 2,5 jours sous les coups de son conjoint ou concubin. En 2011, 122 femmes sont mortes en France. Des chiffres alarmants qui peinent à diminuer véritablement, en raison notamment du manque de mesures concrètes annoncées par le gouvernement. Qu’en est-il des questions d’accueil et de prise en charge des victimes ? L’Observatoire national des violences faites aux femmes promis par  Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Ministre des droits des femmes, verra-t-il le jour ?

According to official figures, one woman in 10 is the victim of domestic violence and one woman dies every 2.5 days at the hands of her spouse or partner. In 2011, 122 women died in France. Alarming figures that have yet to significantly decline, mainly due to the lack of concrete measures announced by the government. What about the issues of reception and treatment of victims? Will the Observatoire national des violences faites aux femmes (National Observatory on Violence Against Women) promised by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women's Rights, see the light of day?

Cultural practices

Some aspects of violence against women in France are linked to cultural practices in immigrant populations, who continue to follow traditional practices increasingly falling into disuse in their countries of origin. The site Forum au Féminin reveals:

On estime qu'au moins 30 000 femmes et fillettes excisées vivent actuellement en France. Différentes organisations avancent le chiffre de 10 000 à 20 000 petites filles originaires d'Afrique, exposées au risque d'excision.

It is estimated that at least 30,000 circumcised women and girls currently live in France. Other organizations put the figure at 10,000 to 20,000 young girls from Africa who are at risk of female genital mutilation.

Meanwhile, rape is more common and affects those from all walks of life, as the blog reminds us in this post:

75 000 femmes sont violées chaque année. Le viol ne donne lieu qu’à 3% de poursuites judiciaires. Une femme est violée toutes les 8 minutes. 59% des victimes de viol sont mineures. Les chiffres parlent d’eux-mêmes.

75,000 women are raped every year. Only 3% of rape cases are prosecuted. Every eight minutes, a woman is raped. 59% of rape victims are minors. The numbers speak for themselves.

Two women who had been raped commented on the post about what they had endured. One of the women recounted how she had been assaulted every day for eight years by her own father, who was tried and sentenced to seven years in prison before his death. She expressed her emotions upon her father's death:

Un soulagement une page se tourne mais cela à provoqué, une aliénation durant toutes ces années de souffrance non reconnue et provoquera toujours au plus profond de moi un manque de confiance altérée. Je serais à jamais perturbée par cette histoire…

It's a relief, a page has been turned, but it led to a feeling of alienation during all those years of unrecognized suffering, and deep inside I will always feel a lack of trust. I will always be disturbed by my past…

Other violence

A high level of impunity and indifference surrounds this kind of violence. This is confirmed by a study conducted by Ipsos for Femme Actuelle on this International Day to Fight Violence Against Women, with a sample of about a thousand people representing the French population:

… 16 % des sondés considèrent que le harcèlement moral ne relève pas du domaine de la violence. Par exemple, les commentaires sur un décolleté plongeant sont jugés “de mauvais gout mais sans réelle conséquence” pour 26 % des hommes. Les insultes sexistes sont ainsi jugées de moindre importance. Pourtant, la violence psychologique est la plus répandue avec 20% des femmes qui ont subi à plusieurs reprises le dénigrement de leur conjoint ou de leur partenaire. Enfin, les foyers défavorisés sont les plus touchés : 38 % des femmes aux revenus les plus faibles ont déjà rencontré des situations de violences dans leur couple.

… 16% of respondents do not consider psychological harassment to fall under the category of violence. For example, comments on a plunging neckline are considered “in poor taste but without any serious consequences” by 26% of men. Sexist insults are thus deemed to be of lesser significance. Yet emotional abuse is the most common kind, with 20% of women having been repeatedly denigrated by their spouse or partner. Lastly, poorer households are the hardest hit: 38% of lower-income women have encountered situations of violence in their relationships before.

Brave survivors

The blog discusses the underestimated courage of those who, despite the difficulties, dare to file complaints against their rapists:

Sans ce soutien, les victimes, surtout les plus jeunes, ont tendance à se murer, dans l’appréhension de cet autre cataclysme que déclencherait le récit d’une souillure dont elles s’estiment souvent, confusément, coupables.

Douloureux à émettre, à supposer qu’il soit reçu, et à répéter des années durant jusqu’au tribunal, en dépit des menaces, leur témoignage est pourtant indispensable non seulement au retour de leur propre équilibre, mais à celui de la société, lequel passe par la prise de conscience des agresseurs potentiels, pas toujours à même d’évaluer les dégâts qu’ils vont causer.

Without this support, victims–especially the younger ones–tend to shut themselves away, apprehensive of the calamity that would ensue from telling of a defilement that they often feel vaguely guilty about.

It is painful to express–assuming that they are believed–and to repeat for years and years before the court, despite threats. Their testimony is however essential, not only to restore a state of balance in themselves, but in society, which raises awareness in potential attackers who are not always able to assess the damage they will cause.

The blog Journal des Femmes reports on an initiative by 313 women who were raped:

 Les 313 signataires font partie des 75 000 victimes recensées chaque année en France. On compte un viol toutes les 8 minutes dans notre pays. Ce fait de société n'épargne aucun milieu. Les femmes du manifeste ont entre 18 et 87 ans et sont représentatives de la population. Il y a des journalistes, des infirmières, des étudiantes, des cadres supérieurs, des assistantes sociales, des retraitées…

The 313 signatories are among the 75,000 victims reported every year in France. There is one rape every eight minutes in our country. This social reality affects those of all backgrounds. The women involved with the manifesto range from 18 to 87 years old and are representative of the population. There are journalists, nurses, students, senior executives, social workers, retirees, etc.

Here is a statement from one of the rape victims and a signatory on the manifesto of the 313 :

There are some phone numbers that can be called in case of need. The site provides a few of these numbers along with the names of the associations that run them:

Le 0.800.05.95.95, ‘SOS Viol’ du Collectif féministe contre le viol. Appel gratuit. Le, numéro de l’Association européenne contre les Violences faites aux Femmes au Travail (AVFT). Permanence téléphonique du lundi au vendredi de 9h30 à 15h (prix appel local). Le 08.842.846.37 (08 Victimes) de l’Inavem. Pour les victimes d'agressions sexuelles. Numéro non surtaxé, tous les jours de 9h à 21h.

0.800.05.95.95, ‘SOS Viol’ (sexual assault helpline) run by Collectif féministe contre le viol (Feminist Collective Against Rape). Toll-free., the number for Association européenne contre les Violences faites aux Femmes au Travail (AVFT, European Association Against Violence Against Women at Work). Helpline Monday-Friday 9.30am-3.00pm (local call rate). 08.842.846.37 (08-VICTIMES) run by Inavem. For victims of sexual assault. Non-premium number, every day from 9.00am to 9.00pm.

The increase in the number of these hotlines is not without financial problems that threaten their continuation. The free number 3919, however, deserves a special mention, according to the blog

Pas question en tout cas de remettre en cause le numéro « officiel », le 3919, numéro vert sur les violences conjugales géré par l’Association Nationale Solidarité Femmes. Un numéro gratuit et anonyme : il n'apparaît pas sur les factures téléphoniques

In any case, no questioning of the “official” number, 3919, a domestic violence helpline run by Association Nationale Solidarité Femmes (National Association for Women's Solidarity). A free and anonymous number: it does not appear on phone bills

Forced prostitution

Prostitution, when it is not voluntary, can entail forms of violence against women who are thrown into this line of work by men who exploit them. The blog gives some statistics:

Selon l'Office central pour la répression de la traite des êtres humains (OCRTEH), il y aurait entre 18 000 et 20 000 personnes prostituées en France aujourd'hui. La prostitution est-elle légale en France ? Les clients peuvent-ils être sanctionnés ? Les précisions de Maître Julie Scavazza.

According to Office central pour la répression de la traite des êtres humains (OCRTEH, Central Office for Combating Human Trafficking), there are between 18 000 and 20 000 prostitutes in France today. Is prostitution legal in France? Can clients be punished? Attorney Julie Scavazza has the details.

This November 25, the collective Abolition 2012 is also mobilizing to give a reminder on of its demands–the removal of repressive measures toward prostitutes:

  • La mise en place de politiques efficaces de lutte contre le proxénétisme.
  • L’interdiction de l’achat d’un acte sexuel.
  • La mise en place d’alternatives à la prostitution (accès aux droits, au logement, à la santé).
  • Une politique de prévention et d’éducation à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes
  • Implement effective policies against “pimping”.
  • Prohibit the purchase of sexual services.
  • Implement alternatives to prostitution (access to rights, housing, and health).
  • Introduce a policy of prevention and education about gender equality


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