France is preparing to introduce legislation that would make psychological violence between both married and unmarried couples a criminal offense.
The proposed law was first announced by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on November 25 in a speech he gave to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
At the time AFP quoted Mr Fillon as saying of the law that would apply to husbands and wives and cohabiting couples:It's an important step forward: the creation of this offence will allow us to deal with the most insidious situations, situations that leave no visible scars, but which leave their victims torn up inside
The indication was that the new law would come in to effect sometime in the first half of 2010 and accordingly the proposed legislation is now receiving more publicity.
Reports in the Telegraph and Daily Mail state that the proposed law has been criticized for being impossible to enforce, additional criticism allegedly being that it is a "response to lobbying by feminists" and is government unnecessarily interfering in "non-violent domestic squabbles".
Repeatedly being rude about your partner's appearance, falsely suggesting that they have been unfaithful and threatening physical violence are all verbal actions likely to be covered by the new law.
Police will apparently be encouraged to issue a caution for a first offense but further transgressions would land offenders with a fine, an electronic tag/electronic monitoring device - probably combined with a restraining order - or even a jail sentence.
During his speech in November Prime Minister Fillon, who has held his current position since May 2007 and is a member of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the party once led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, referred to the electronic surveillance presently employed by Spanish authorities in cases where a man has been convicted of beating his wife.
As of November 2009 58 Spanish men had been fitted with an electronic device that sets off an alarm if the offender gets too close to his former victim, enabling the former victim to contact the police. Between June and November 2009 police were called 222 times by women whose former attackers had activated their devices.
Commenting on the law set to be introduced in France, a country in which 157 women and seven men were killed by their spouses or partners in 2008, psychologist Anne Giraud said:Squabbling couples will allege all kinds of things about each other, but they won't necessarily be true. The police are likely to be called out more and more when this law comes into force this year, but often it will be a case of one person's word against the other. Psychological violence is a very serious matter, but punishing it through the courts is a very different matter altogether
According to the BBC psychiatrist and psychological violence expert Dr. Marie-France Hirigoyen is "cautious" regarding the new law and has noted:I think it's important to have a law but it must be formulated so there isn't too much risk of manipulation or mistakes. I treat people whose lives have been torn apart but they haven't been hit. There are no physical marks, no proof
Observing that psychological violence is not always easy to recognize or define Dr. Hirigoyen explained that a professional would know when it was being used, adding:It's a relationship which is based on control and domination - and if you want to prevent physical violence, you have to take action early on. But even if there are no physical blows, it's still devastating
The BBC also spoke to a French woman in her 30s who had been subjected to psychological violence and would have liked a law in place enabling her to take her ex-partner to court, however difficult it may have been to prove her allegations.
Laurent Hincker, a lawyer supporting the legislation being proposed in France, asserted:There are other crimes which are also hard to prove, such as bullying or harassment in the workplace. For a long time people said you can't have a law against bullying because it's too difficult to prove, but now there is a law and people get convicted