Jan 9, 2017
The following article was translated from the January 4 issue of Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the French revolutionary workers group of that name.
Francois Hollande finally decided to completely pardon Jacqueline Sauvage on December 29, and she was freed the same evening, after having spent four years in a cell.
This 69-year-old woman was sentenced to ten years in prison for having killed her husband in 2012. For 47 years, she was a victim of domestic violence. Two of her daughters were raped by the father, and her son, equally a victim of violence, committed suicide a few hours before the death of the father.
Her liberation is the result of the fight of her support committee and of feminist groups who denounced this injustice, and of all those who joined in protesting her imprisonment. One petition got more than 400,000 signatures. This mobilization pushed Hollande to give her a partial pardon in January 2016. Because of his political cowardice, Hollande was content with this half measure that let the judicial system decide if Jacqueline Sauvage could be released.
On two separate occasions, mid-August and the end of November, the judges decided to leave her in prison, invoking as an excuse that she maintains a “discourse of victimization.” In November, the judges justified their decision by explaining that Jacqueline Sauvage did not express a “real and authentic feeling of guilt” and had shown “poor and limited reflection.”
Persisting in this attitude at the announcement of the presidential pardon, Virginie Duval, president of the main union of judges, denounced “a new attack on the independence of the justice system by the executive.” But this avoids the fact that the judicial apparatus barely pretends to protect women who are victims of domestic violence. In France, a woman dies of violence at the hands of her husband or partner every three days. Two hundred and twenty-three thousand women are victims of serious domestic violence. Of these, just 14 per cent dare to lodge a complaint, terrified at the idea that their abuser will not be stopped and that they will face reprisals. At her trial, this was the principal reproach that the judges aimed at Jacqueline Sauvage: she never lodged a complaint. But they know the statistics; they knew very well that women are confronted by cops who minimize the problem.
The case of Jacqueline Sauvage shows that, faced with the hypocrisy of the reactionaries, the indifference of the judicial institutions and the cowardice of the political class, in order to reduce sexist violence and more generally to defend their rights, women can only count on their own mobilizations.