“I think it’s time to go ma’am. He is dangerous”

 “I think it's time to go ma'am. He is dangerous

At the listening center at 3919, in Paris, around thirty professional listeners answer calls from witnesses or victims of domestic violence.

© Cha Gonzalez
At the listening center at 3919, in Paris, around thirty professional listeners answer calls from witnesses or victims of domestic violence.

“Liberation” followed a listener from the Violence Femmes Info line. A plunge into the horror of domestic violence while the government wants to open up the management of the device to competition.

Few places condense so much distress and hope. The premises housing 3919, the national helpline, support and guidance dedicated to women victims of violence, are among them. A little over a year later l’immersion d’Emmanuel Macron At the opening of the Grenelle on conjugal violence, the National Federation of Solidarity Women (FNSF), creator and manager of this line since 1992, reopened the doors of Violence Femmes Info. “Could you open up twenty-four hours a day and stretch out on this floor?” : the question of the Head of State resonates bitterly at the end of November. Rather than extending the FNSF’s subsidies to achieve this objective, the government opted for the opening of a public market. Alongside the FNSF, feminist associations are on the rise against this competition. Taking refuge behind legal provisions, the Minister responsible for Equality Elisabeth Moreno assured that this market will be carried out within the framework of the social and solidarity economy. Not enough to reassure the troops about the future of this essential service.

The 3919 receives calls from all over France, 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 9 to 9 p.m. on weekends during this period of confinement. It relies on the network of 73 associations of the federation, which makes it possible to direct women in distress to local relays and accommodation centers. Since the emergence of #MeToo in 2017, the use of these free and anonymous calls has increased. The confinement then caused a real explosion: 97,481 were received in the first half of 2020 (against 96,799 over the whole of 2019). Proof, if necessary, that the needs are real. Urgent.

Listening, “a real job»

Around thirty professional listeners collect the words of these battered, raped, threatened and endangered women every day. Social worker, lawyer, educator or even psychologist … all have received specific listening training. Lydia (1), 45, joined the 3919 team two and a half years ago. It is based on nearly twenty years of struggle on the ground against violence against women. “Shocked” through the opening of the public market, Lydia“Worried about the future of the line”. «Listening is a real job and in the context of violence against women, a professional and committed feminist approach is needed ”, supports Françoise Brié, spokesperson for the FNSF.

Paris, November 27, 2020. At the listening center at 3919, Lydia (first name changed) answers calls from witnesses or victims of domestic violence.

© Cha Gonzalez
Paris, November 27, 2020. At the listening center at 3919, Lydia (first name changed) answers calls from witnesses or victims of domestic violence.

Confinement requires, work habits are upset. Part of the team is teleworking. In this room with three offices, only one is occupied. Headphones and a small black laptop replaced the usual headphones. The pre-reception allowing to filter the “Interference calls” and simple requests for information is also no longer possible in this configuration. “Violence women info, hello”: the listener picks up a first call. “She wants to end it, that is to say, she wants to end her life? Is she with you now? ” The tone is serious, the words reassuring. The words “denigration”, “threats”, “psychological violence” are dropped. After receiving a call for help, this relative of a victim of violence from Bouches-du-Rhône picked up the handset. “Before going to see an association, perhaps you could convince them to contact us? We can give him advice, help him understand the mechanisms of the violence she suffers, suggests Lydia before explaining to her : When you’re a victim of violence and you’re afraid of your executioner, it paralyzes, you can’t move, you can’t cry. “ It is essential to go there step by step. “You have to tell her that the association is not going to judge her, will not force her to leave her executioner, will not call 119 because her children are in danger. This is not his job.”

“If we can’t hear the distress, we are useless”

The entourage (family, friends, neighbor, colleagues…) also plays a key role in this fight against this violence. They represented a quarter of calls in 2019, the rest coming from women victims directly. “During the first confinement, many neighbors contacted us”, Lydia remembers. The calls are linked at breakneck speed. “In times of Covid, the phone rings every 30 seconds.” If Lydia does not answer, the call will be forwarded to her colleagues’ cellphones. And if no one is available, it hangs up. Right now, the 3919 receives an average of 400 to 450 calls per day, double the number of last year.

The desire to help all these women comes up against the reality of human resources. Faced with the exceptional influx of calls during the first confinement, the listeners were unable to take care of them all. “It’s frustrating”Lydia concedes, glancing at her cell phone. In about ten minutes, 24 calls were missed. “Some will be taken care of by colleagues, sometimes they are requests for information, but I hope that the others will call back. For me, a situation is a situation, a life is a life. ” Strengthening teams is central for a 24-hour shift. In the meantime, out of the question to send the calls. “Listening is at least 20 minutes, it can take up to 40 or even an hour for people on the verge of suicide. The distress can be heavy but if we can’t hear it, we are useless ”, Lydia slice.

“Does he want to kill you?”

New call. “What’s the matter with you ma’am?” Breathe a little. ” Lydia tries to calm her interlocutor. Over the questions, a profile emerges. A woman, 39, stranded in Finistère with her violent 68-year-old husband and two grown children born from another union. The horror takes shape more and more crudely as the words are spelled. Frowning, Lydia’s voice grows firmer: “Does he want to kill you?” – Exactly, he has already tried …“, She warns. The “executioner” chased him with a knife after having “Tried to massacre her for the first time”. The listener insists: “I think it’s time for you lady to grab a pair of sneakers and go.” He is dangerous.” She directs him to an association near her home. “Tell yourself that this is temporary, you are not going to stay in a shelter for life.” Use of social assistance. File a complaint as soon as it is in a safe place. Request for divorce. Lydia traces the steps to follow to get out of this hell. “Whether she stays or goes: for her, she is already dead. She is too paralyzed to call the police ”, she tells us. She concludes the call: “Above all, don’t change your behavior at home […]. Goodbye, good luck madam. ” Red button. Silence.

“We reassure them, release them from guilt, but we don’t know what happens afterwards. There is no follow-up, we are not an emergency platform ”, reminds the listener. An experience that contrasts radically with that which she once had in the field. “We went to the station to pick up the woman and children before accompanying them to the accommodation center.” Its mission remains nonetheless essential: “If she doesn’t take action today, I know she will take action tomorrow.” The only remaining trace of their conversation are these few succinct notes scribbled during the call. Age, types of violence, department … anonymous data recorded on a form for statistical purposes.

“I’m not leaving with the painful story”

The listeners glimpse the tragedies of those who take the blows, sometimes fatal. “I am not leaving with the painful story but with the satisfaction of having accompanied them, of having given everything I could”, assure Lydia. Between two calls, she still takes the time to breathe and chat with a few colleagues. “Teamwork is essential”. If this line does not deal with emergencies, contact with the police is possible.. “We have a partnership with them to allow women who wish and who agree to waive their anonymity to plan an intervention at home. It can happen but it remains an exception ”, explains Françoise Brié. When he came, Macron had been confronted with the harsh reality of refusal of complaints. “There are still cases where complaints are not taken, it is unacceptable”, regrets the spokesperson.

At midday, a relative lull is felt. The time when women go to pick up their children and the husband can come home. The phone starts ringing again. The call is short. A man who wonders about the number of women killed and the number of rapes, which seem enormous to him. “He monopolizes the line for nothing”, loose Lydia. A few minutes later, the cell phone lights up again. “You don’t know who to call? What’s going on ma’am? “ Yet another appalling situation: a man tried to kill his ex-partner, a 50-year-old disabled woman. “It would be good if you made a complaint to protect yourself, otherwise you will live in fear all your life. ” The listener recommends an association in Calvados and to ask for a protection order. The alert is also given on the well-oiled mechanisms of the aggressors. “If he comes back and says ‘I’m going to get treatment, I love you, I’m going to kill myself’, cover your ears, madam. Has he done it several times? Of course…”

Access to expand

In this well-established system, a few points can still be improved, such as its accessibility to women with disabilities or who do not speak French. A project already underway, also mentioned by the minister in the context of the public contract. “We have multilingual listening but it is still insufficient. We must try to provide an answer to foreign women ”, adds Françoise Brié. The challenge ? Reach as many women as possible to save as many as possible. It’s hard not to think of the 149 women who weren’t so lucky, killed by their spouse or ex-spouse in 2019. And dozens of other feminicides already perpetrated in 2020. A funeral litany that particularly affects Lydia: “We wonder what would have happened if they had contacted us or we say to ourselves that perhaps they should have done so …”

Paris, November 27, 2020, at the 3919 listening center.

© Cha Gonzalez
Paris, November 27, 2020, at the 3919 listening center.

(1) The first name has been changed and elements have been modified to preserve the safety of the victims.


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