Macron hears unwitting police officer refuse to help domestic abuse victim in danger while listening in on emergency hotline

Maya Oppenheim
REUTERS

French officials opened an investigation after Emmanuel Macron listened in on a domestic violence hotline call in which a police officer refused to help a woman in danger.

The controversy surfaced after the French president visited the Paris office of the national hotline and silently listened in to the morning calls with headphones.

Mr Macron disagreed with the police officer's response but said nothing on the line - with the officer remaining unaware the president was listening in.

The saga coincided with the launch of the French government’s new crackdown on domestic abuse. Critics argue the government is not doing enough to tackle domestic violence and protesters took to the streets of Paris over the weekend to condemn the 100th femicide in France this year.

In the call, Mr Macron overheard a distressed woman who had decided to leave her abusive husband tell one of the hotline operators the police were refusing to accompany her to her home to collect her belongings.

The 57-year-old woman, who was at the local police station, said her violent husband had threatened to kill her after years of escalating abuse at home and she needed to leave.

She said she had filed a police complaint but had asked the police to accompany her home – due to being scared her husband would kill her – but they had denied her request.

The operator reassured the caller: “You are in the police station? You are in danger. Your husband is at home. The police can accompany you”.

But the woman explained the police were refusing to escort her – prompting the operator to ask to speak to the officer.

An officer of the military police came on the line and the hotline operator tried to persuade him to help her in a phone call that lasted 15 minutes. But the officer maintained it was not his place to get involved – incorrectly claiming he would need a judicial order to escort the woman.

“This woman is under threat of death, are you waiting until she’s actually killed?” the operator said at one point.

After the call, Mr Macron asked: “Does that happen often?”

The operator, who has been working on the hotline for over two decades, said: “Oh yes, more and more frequently.”

Mr Macron told the hotline operator, who directed the woman to a support group, the job of the police is to protect victims rather than apply the law and the problematic response did not stem from an issue with the law but was linked to poor training.

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Some 121 women were killed in France by a current or former partner last year and at least 101 women have been killed so far this year.

France is one of the European countries with the highest number of women killed by a current or former partner, according to EU figures from 2017, which put it second only to Germany.

The protests on Sunday saw demonstrators hold signs showing the names of the women killed by their partner or ex-partner between January and September 2019. A 92-year-old woman became victim number 101 on Monday when she died after being beaten by her husband with his cane.

On Tuesday, the French government announced plans to create 1,000 new places in shelters for the victims of domestic violence as outrage mounts over femicides in the country. Femicide is defined as the gender-motivated killing of women.

“For centuries, women have been buried under our indifference, denial, carelessness, age-old machismo and incapacity to look this horror in the face,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday as he opened a major consultation on domestic violence which will go on until 25 November which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

He announced plans for legislation allowing for the wide-scale use of electronic bracelets to stop domestic abuse offenders approaching their victims.

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