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Domestic violence: ‘Electronic bracelets are a first step, but we have to go further’

A protest against domestic violence in Paris, France on July 6, 2019.
A protest against domestic violence in Paris, France on July 6, 2019. © Martin Bureau, AFP
Text by: Sarah LEDUC
5 min

Electronic bracelets designed to alert victims of domestic abuse if their attacker is nearby have been backed by the French government and advocacy groups as essential to enforcing restraining orders. Yet as the authorities rolled out the new technology on Friday, some say it is not enough.

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Every day, thousands of women are victims of domestic violence in France. Sometimes, the abuse is fatal: since the beginning of the year, at least 66 women have succumbed to injuries inflicted by a current or former partner, according to the organisation Femicide by Partners or Exes (Féminicides par compagnons ou ex). 

In 2019, a total of 146 women were killed, according to official data, a nearly 21 percent increase from the year before.

In an effort to fight against the rise in domestic violence, the French government proposed a number of emergency measures last year, including legislation that would require abusers to wear an electronic bracelet. The bill, which was officially adopted on December 19, 2019, came into effect on Friday.

Like a large smartwatch

The electronic bracelets, which resemble a large smartwatch, follow an abuser’s movements with the help of a GPS device. The victim is also equipped with a tracker, which they must wear at all times.

If an abuser violates the terms of their restraining order, or comes too close to a victim’s home or place of work, the bracelet sets off a first alarm warning them to stay back. If ignored, the device then alerts a control centre, which in turn contacts the police.

Each bracelet comes with a battery, which has a 48-hour life before it needs to be recharged. “Failing to do that is considered an infraction,” Isabelle Rome, a senior official at the Ministry of Gender Equality, told France Inter radio.

Don’t ‘forget to support the victims’

Around 1,000 bracelets are ready to be deployed in five jurisdictions across France – including Angoulême, Bobigny, Douai, Pontoise and Aix-en-Provence – where they will initially be distributed on a case-by-case basis. If all goes well, the devices will go into general use on December 31, 2020, according to the Ministry of Justice.

While advocacy groups have welcomed the measure, some fear that general deployment could take longer than planned.

“[We must not] forget to support the victims who are supposed to benefit from this protection,” the France Victim Federation (Fédération France victime) said in a statement. “The victims cannot be left abandoned, and must be taken care of and supported while this measure comes into effect (which could take six months, or even two years if delayed).”

Under the new legislation, a criminal or family court can request an abuser to wear an electronic bracelet as part of the terms of their restraining order. If the order is issued in a family court, then the defendant has the right to refuse, in which case a judge can then decide to open a criminal investigation. 

‘An inadequate measure’

For the organisation Femicide by Partners or Exes, this is the measure’s real weakness.

“We’re going to ask a violent man if he agrees to restrict his movements?” one of the organisation’s directors (who preferred to remain anonymous) told FRANCE 24. 

Although Femicide by Partners or Exes has advocated the use of electronic bracelets in the past, the organisation argues the measure should be automatically enforced from the moment someone reports having been a victim of domestic violence, and their injuries verified by a forensic doctor, as well as a certificate of temporary incapacity for work (Incapacité Temporaire de Travail or ITT).

“What’s going to happen during the criminal investigation?” the director of Femicide by Partners or Exes wondered aloud. “The victims are going to stay locked at home, scared out of their wits, waiting for a ruling to be handed down. We don’t think enough about how frightened the victims are. They can’t work anymore, they can’t leave their homes, they’re raising their children in fear.”

“The sanction is still coming down on the side of the victim, not the accused,” she continued. “It’s a first step, but we have to go further.”

Electronic bracelets are already used in Spain, where they have proven effective: not a single victim has been killed by their abuser since the measure was first put in place in 2008. Overall, there are an estimated 1,150 electronic bracelets currently in use in the country, which recorded more than a million cases of domestic abuse in 2009 and 2017. Meanwhile, the number of women killed by current or former partners dropped from 76 in 2008 to 47 in 2018.

This article was adapted from the original in French by Rachel Holman.

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