A Wave of Femicides Forces France to Confront a Domestic Violence Crisis

A Wave of Femicides Forces France to Confront a Domestic Violence Crisis
People protesting violence against women in Paris, July 6, 2019 (SIPA photo by Jacques Witt via AP Images).

PARIS—Helene de Ponsay hadn’t heard the word “femicide” until April, when police found the body of her older sister, Marie-Alice Dibon, stuffed in a suitcase, thrown into the Oise River. The 53-year-old Dibon, a pharmaceuticals and cosmetics specialist, was the 51st woman in France to be murdered by her partner in 2019. More than 50 deaths later, the word is hard to miss: in headlines, in presidential speeches, and plastered on buildings in cities across the country. Women’s rights advocates are now calling for femicide to be inscribed into the penal code.

“How shameful that it took until now,” de Ponsay said in an interview. “If we don’t define something, it doesn’t exist. Our society has systematically denied this reality.”

De Ponsay is part of a growing movement trying to force a reckoning with the startling scale of violence against women in France. According to government statistics, a woman is murdered by her partner every three days, the third-highest rate in Western Europe, after Germany and Switzerland. Every year, 220,000 women claim to be victims of domestic violence, but experts say that many cases go unreported. “There’s finally this enormous realization,” de Ponsay, a member of the organization “Feminicides,” which seeks to draw attention to domestic violence, said. “I’m relieved.”

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