What’s wrong with the French media?
The problem with the coverage of femicide, sexual assaults and rape accusations in the French media
TRIGGER WARNING* This post contains discussions about abusive language, murder and sexual assault and/or violence including examples of the language and threats in question, which may be triggering to survivors.
On October 28th 2017, a 29-year-old woman, Alexia Daval disappeared in France. Her husband said she went jogging in the morning and never made it home.
This started what seemed to be a perfect soap opera for the French media. Everyone from the local and national newspapers, the radio and TV programs, was talking about it. They wrote about how dangerous it could be for a woman to go jogging by herself, and how some women were using an app to go for a run in groups to feel safer. Some media outlets even advised women to never go for a run without their phone and/or a pepper spray. Others were talking about all those predators who had killed women joggers before.
I think this is when I started to feel angry. All I was hearing, “She shouldn’t have gone jogging by herself.” But it got worse. Paris Match thought it would be interesting to interview a sport coach and quote him when he said that the women who run are not “particularly provocative.”
You read that right. “Not particularly provocative.”
If you thought that was upsetting, there’s more. The coach continues, “A woman jogger is often being harassed because she’s scared”. And the journalist concludes: “Isn’t it this ‘smell of fear’ that trigger aggressors to their prey, that excites predators?”
There are so many things that were already wrong with the coverage of this story. The more I read about it, the angrier I got. But sadly, this was only the beginning.
A couple of days later, the woman’s body was found, burnt in a forest near her home. The autopsy showed that there were marks of physical violence.
So the media show continued. Every day, there was a new reason to put the story on the newspaper front page or to air it on the TV. The media was now covering the ongoing investigation. France had a new public enemy #1 — “the murderer of the young female jogger,” and everybody wanted to know who kills women who are jogging at 8 in the morning.
At the same time, in the little town of Gray in Haute Saone, the woman’s family and friends were organising a silent march. Almost 10,000 people joined, more than the number of people living in the town. Her husband was leading the march. “She was my oxygen,” he said to the journalists, who came from all over the country to cover this drama.
In January 30, 2018, the husband admitted that he was the one who killed her.
Now let’s gather the facts. A 29-year-old woman had been killed by her husband. That’s it. That is the fact. A woman, in France, in 2017, has been killed by her husband.
In fact, she is one of the 109 women who have been killed by their husband or ex-husband in France in 2017. That’s one murder every three days.
But the media didn’t want to talk about this. Instead, they showed images of the husband, crying at the funeral, and at the silent march he had organised a couple of weeks before. Psychologists were invited to live TV programs to analyze his tears. “Yes, these tears were sincere,” one of them said. Newspapers were talking about how shy and quiet the man was.
Soon, the media started to use the husband’s attorney words for headlines, sometimes even without any quotation marks. When you turned your TV on, or opened your newspaper, you would hear or read things such as “the couple was not meant to be together”, “She had a crushing personality”, they were “a couple in crisis”, and “he was feeling devalued by her”.
He was the victim — the “grieving widow” who “loved his wife” and felt emasculated by her. He said it was an accident, that he didn’t want to kill, and it was just another argument.
His lawyer actually had the nerve to go on live TV to say, “This boy will be judged for these 3–4 seconds of his life. He is not a bad man. He’s a great guy with a high sensibility”.
Since when is it okay in France to say that a man who killed his wife is a great guy? And did you notice the use of the word “boy” here, like they wanted to make us believe that it was some kind of a youthful mistake?
And still, there was no mention of domestic violence or femicide anywhere in the media. Some newsrooms even continued to call it the “jogger case”. Even though it was clear by then that she has never been jogging that day, but was beaten and strangled to death by her husband. By the way, that’s not 3–4 seconds. And it is not an accident.
When Marlene Schiappa, the French Secretary of State in charge of Equality between Women and Men, said that it was “scandalous” to highlight the personality of the woman and asked people to “stop trying to find excuses” for the woman’s murder, the government spokesperson countered that she should not comment on an ongoing case. But finally someone said the F word. Femicide, that’s what it was.
The way the French media covered this story is particularly upsetting. It could have been a great opportunity to talk about domestic violence, to educate people, to raise awareness, and to give information about how to escape a violent partner.
Today, two Ministers of the French government are making the headlines for being accused of rape and sexual assault.
The first case, where the minister was accused of rape, an official police complaint was registered in 2008, but the case was dismissed because the facts were too old.
You read that right! In France, the accused in a rape case will not be prosecuted if the rape took place 10 years before, or in case of sexual assault, 3 years before. However, Schiappa was not on the victim’s side this time. “When I hear on television that one of the authors (of the article condemning the Minister) calls women victims of rape, ‘by him or another’, to contact the press, I find that abject,” she said.
The second case, a 46-year-old woman, claims that in 2009 she asked Gérald Darmanin (today’s Minister of Public Action and Accounts) for a favour, to remove an old conviction from her criminal records. She alleges that he accepted to help her in exchange for sexual favours which were acquired, to quote her lawyer, ‘by surprise’.The case was dismissed because the court failed to establish the absence of the complainant’s consent. The same man is now being accused of abuse of weakness by another woman who was living in unfit housing. At the time, Darmanin was the city mayor and the woman says that when she asked him to be relocated, he asked her for sexual favors in return.
The problem with these two cases is that, once again, journalists have been arguing about knowing if it was “right or wrong to publish the stories”, and the controversy is about the newspaper’s ethics and the journalist’s integrity. The problem is that the media is mixing everything up.
This article is a perfect example of nonsense. The title reads, “Gerald Darmanin accused of rape: ‘His relationship to women is his weak point’”. Isn’t it a very upsetting title? But wait for the content of the article. The journalist writes: “Shortly before the revelation of the first charge of rape, the young minister had himself admitted that he has “a little heavy humour” when it comes to flirting and has passed sexist remarks. A political friend also raised his concern by graciously saying, “I know the boy… His rapport with women is his weak point. As long as there are no written records of his compromising exchanges with the young woman who accuses him today of abuse of weakness”.
Here again, the defenders are using the term “boy”, as if it was childish behaviour. We’re talking about a 35-year-old Minister, accused of raped and abuse, and there is absolutely nothing childish in this story.
I am sure you won’t be surprised if I tell you that the government has been ensuring its “full support” to the incriminated Ministers.
Another problem with this media coverage? I haven’t read any article mentioning associations for victims, or figures about domestic violence, rape and sexual assault. Not a single one.
What kind of message does that send to all the women who have been victims of rape, sexual assault, or domestic violence? What does it say about France? As a French woman, journalist, and a survivor, this feels like a betrayal.