On Monday, a Frenchwoman, Valérie Bacot, will appear in court to be tried for the murder of her stepfather who became a husband. She admitted to shooting him and thinks she should be punished.
In her defense, she should tell the audience of Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgundy how Daniel “Dany” Polette made her life hell from the day he raped her when she was 12 years old, until ‘on the day he died 24 years later. by prostituting her.
Bacot, who had four children with her alleged abuser, will talk about how she was convinced Polette would kill them all and how everyone knew he was a violent sexual predator but no one said or did anything. And she will relate how, when the children went to the gendarmes – twice – to report the abuse, they were told to go away and tell their terrified mother to come herself.
She will say that she had nowhere to go, no one to turn to, no money and was so under Polette’s control that she didn’t know how to escape her daily terror of threats and violence.
The trial will once again shine a light on domestic violence in France and comes after a week in which three women were killed by ex-partners in a country that has one of the highest rates of femicide – listed here like the murder of a woman by a current or former partner – in Europe. So far this year, at least 55 women have been killed by a current or former partner in France.
In May, Fayard, one of France’s best-known publishing houses, published Bacot’s story: Everyone knew (Everyone knew). The book is a dark read: 198 pages detailing the relentless misery that began when Bacot, whose alcoholic mother and largely absent father had divorced, was 12 and stepfather Polette forced her to have sex . At the time, she says she had no idea what he was doing and only found out after a biology class at school.
Polette was jailed for incest in 1995, but was allowed to return to the family home after three years and continued to rape Bacot. “No one seemed to find it odd that Daniel came back to live with us as if nothing had happened,” she wrote. “Everyone knew but nobody said anything.
Soon he was raping her again. One day, she overhears her mother say, “I don’t care until she gets pregnant. At 17, she fell pregnant and Polette moved her into an apartment like his wife. Three more children followed, as well as almost daily beatings.
Bacot writes that she and the children lived in fear of angering Polette. He broke her nose, hit her on the head with a hammer, arranged lesbian encounters, which he filmed, and kept her virtually prisoner. She was not allowed to talk to anyone when she went out shopping and he was being spied on by her friends and family, she said.
Then Polette decided that he would retire and prostitute Bacot. She remembers her youngest child finding a card Polette made and asking her what “escort” meant. Polette proxied his wife in the back of his Peugeot 806 which he fitted with a mattress, while spying on her with customers and giving her instructions via an earpiece. He had a gun, he said, just in case a customer got mean. If Bacot didn’t do as he asked, he would beat her, she told investigators.
On March 13, after being raped by a customer, she took the gun that her husband had hidden between the seats of the car and shot it.
“She is a woman who has been destroyed and devastated, not only by the lack of maternal love, rape, beatings, denigration, prostitution but also and above all by the indifference and omerta of society” , write Bacot’s lawyers. , Janine Bonaggiunta and Nathalie Tomasini, in the preface.
“From an early age, she went through terrible things without anyone, not even those close to her, blinking. They ignored his distress and his ordeal, which could be read on his face. The story of his life is deeply moving.
The case echoes that of Jacqueline Sauvage who has become a famous cause for activists against violence against women and girls. Sauvage was married for 47 years to a violent alcoholic who she said raped and beat her and her three daughters and abused her son. In September 2012, the day after her son was hanged, Sauvage shot her husband.
Tomasini represented Sauvage and asked the court to “push the boundaries of self-defense in situations of domestic violence”, but she was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 2016, after three years in prison, she was pardoned by the then president, François Hollande, and released.
Monday, the public prosecutor will maintain that the act of Bacot was premeditated. In the book, Bacot said she feared Polette was considering abusing their teenage daughter and thought to herself, “This has to stop.” Bonaggiunta says the defense will argue that Bacot shot her husband because “it was a matter of survival.”
“You could argue it was premeditated, but she was a woman who had been bullied her whole life, he was in control and that was the only way for her to get out of this situation,” Bonaggiunta told the Guardian.
“The legal texts are clear: she killed him. There is no legal text to protect women like that who have been beaten for years and for it to be taken into consideration as there is in Canada. It is clear that she had been punched several times and her brain was not functioning properly at the time. She was certainly in an impaired condition. To some extent, one could argue that she had no choice.
In his book, Bacot says that she is often asked why she did not leave her husband.
“I think if you haven’t lived that kind of life, it’s hard to understand. When your daily life is a succession of beatings, threats, insults and humiliations you end up being unable to think… your partner has brainwashed you. And you think everything he says is true. You think the problem is with you and not with him and that you deserve everything you get, ”she explains.
Bonaggiunta, who specializes in domestic violence cases, said there was “inertia” in society to help women and their children escape their abusers.
“When I heard this story, my first thought was that it started with a little girl who was not helped, who was the victim of violence in which her parents were complicit,” she said. “She killed him but she was not a murderer. She was the victim.
Bacot’s trial will last a week.