French members of parliament have voted unanimously to make “psychological violence” within a couple an offense punishable by up to three years in prison as part of new measures aimed at improving protection for victims of domestic abuse.
Politicians from the left and right supported the passing of the law, which singles out “repeated” verbal actions intended to hurt the victim’s rights and dignity or their physical or mental health. As well as a jail sentence, offenders could be ordered to pay a fine of up to 75,000 euros (US$102,000).
Supporters of the law say an estimated 8 percent of women in France are psychologically abused by their partner. Chantal Brunel, a member of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s majority Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, described it as “a preventive measure as psychological violence always precedes [physical] blows.”
The law includes a clause under which people who have been ordered to stay away from their partners could be forced to wear an electronic tag. Nadine Morano, the junior family minister, said this would be an experimental measure only taken initially in limited areas.
In wider efforts to protect abuse victims, a four-month-long “protection order” would allow judges to evict the violent partner from the family home or, if the victim decided to leave, to arrange rehousing and provisionally grant child custody.
In France in 2008, 156 women are known to have been killed by a husband, partner or boyfriend. According to the government, 675,000 women have been the victims of violent abuse over the past two years.
There was unusual political consensus in the passing of the bill brought by a socialist member of parliament and a representative of the right-wing UMP.
It must now go to the senate for approval.
However, there is division in legal circles as to how applicable the new law will prove. Critics have said it will be hard to know where to draw the line between insults and arguments on the one hand, and abuse on the other.