Outcry on domestic violence

Shanghai Star. 2003-08-21

THE death of actress Marie Trintignant after she was bashed in a row with her rock star lover has unleashed an outcry over domestic violence in France - where one in 10 women is beaten at home.

As an autopsy revealed that Trintignant, a classic beauty who had graced French movie screens since childhood, died from blows to the face, a year-old study resurfaced showing that her death is not that extraordinary.

Every five days in France, a woman is beaten to death by her partner and wife-bashing is just as prevalent among the well-heeled as among the under-privileged, according to the government-commissioned study which was first published in June last year.

"Trintignant's death has shaken public opinion and smashed stereotypes about domestic violence. Even independent, assertive women can be victims," said Marie-Dominique de Suremain, head of the National Federation for Women's Solidarity.

"There are 1.5 million women in France who are abused - physically, sexually or psychologically - by husbands or partners. That implies there are 1.5 million men out there behind this violence, and you wouldn't know to look at them."


The federation, which groups 54 associations, struggles to cope with some 15,000 calls each year from battered women.

Wearing white ribbons as a sign of non-violence, some 200 supporters converged on a Paris square last week to lay a wreath of sunflowers in memory of victims of fatal beatings.

"Too many women are murdered. We're fed up with macho men," read a slogan, pinned up alongside the names of some of the victims.

According to the European Lobby for Women, 13 per cent of French women report violence at home, and 6 per cent Switzerland women do.

In Spain, where violence against women is a big issue, 45 women have died so far this year at the hands of their partners.

Sociologists say some men feel threatened by living with successful career-women who earn good money, making them financially independent, and who enjoy busy social lives.

"Some men have this archaic view that it is normal for women to be disadvantaged. If they see their wives becoming ambitious and independent, they feel inadequate, they resist and sometimes they refuse to accept it," said de Suremain.

"We hear terrible things. A lot of women are hit in the face or eye. Some have their backs broken and are left handicapped for life. Some are even dangled out of windows by their feet. The more this comes out into the open, the better."

Debate rages

Trintignant, daughter of movie star Jean-Louis Trintignant, was buried last week after an emotional funeral attended by actress Catherine Deneuve, former prime minister Lionel Jospin and British actress and singer Jane Birkin, among others.

Her boyfriend Bertrand Cantat, lead singer of the popular French group Noir Desir, is in custody in Lithuania pending an inquiry into manslaughter after the bashing in the couple's Vilnius hotel room on July 27 left Trintignant in a coma.

Ironically, the poetry-loving Cantat has always been seen as a left-wing pacifist. The 39-year-old singer opposed the war in Iraq and has espoused a series of politically correct causes.

And while she often played fragile characters, 41-year-old mother-of-four Trintignant was a standard-bearer for feminism.

At her funeral, Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon recalled "the solitary struggle she led for all people ... and most particularly for women: for their freedom, for their dignity and for the defence of their equality."

The influential daily newspaper Le Monde called Trintignant's death "proof that domestic violence is not restricted to the underprivileged, unemployed, violent or alcoholic".

In fact the 2002 study shows that executives are to blame for twice as many wide beatings as blue-collar workers - although the figure may be distorted by differences in how likely women from different backgrounds are to report violence to the police.

It also shows that only a third of beatings were alcohol-fuelled.

Cantat, looking wan and dejected in a Lithuanian courtroom, has insisted that Tritignant's death was "an unhappy accident" and not a crime.

The view that it's "okay" for lovers' tiffs to come to blows now and then has been torn apart in a sea of commentary in websites and newspapers, and opponents of domestic violence are making Trintignant their symbol.

(Agencies via Xinhua)

Copyright by Shanghai Star.