Psychological violence a crime in France

Reports here and discussion (in French) here on the new law passed in France, which identifies psychological violence as a criminal offence:

Politicians from the left and right supported the passing of a 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 (£66,600).

When I first heard about this (on the BBC world service news show last night) there was criticism of this law as ’empty law making’ – critics claimed that it would be hard to in fact prosecute and get convictions, and the law was likely therefore to be ineffective.

Even if so, it didn’t seem to me to be empty law making – such a law could help reinforce that such psychologically abusive forms of behaviour are unacceptable, or might help individuals subject to such abuse feel reasonable in seeking help…

I also thought there were some philosophically interesting/troubling parts to the law (as it is reported). Why the focus on what the perpetrator in fact intends, rather than on what effects could be reasonably forseen? Why ‘repeated’ verbal actions – could not a one off insult or threat be seriously damaging? Why only verbal actions – might gestures or other behaviour be psychologically abusive?

Any thoughts…?

22 thoughts on “Psychological violence a crime in France

  1. People are so different, especially in a society as varied and multi-cultural as France is, that perhaps the only way to ascertain guilt is to take intentions into account, instead of a “reasonably unforeseen effect”. After all, physical abuse is physical abuse: everyone can be assumed to know that a blow hurts, but what is a serious insult in culture A is trivial in culture B.

  2. I think that in some legal systems, intention is understood in term of what a reasonable person could foresee.

  3. ‘repeatedly’ seems right to me, jj. i don’t have a good argument for it. but it seems like a one-off could so easily be a losing-one’s-cool mistake. so much less likely to be so if it’s done again and again. no? tricky, this one!

  4. amos: I see your point. I just worry that what’s intended (to hurt rights or dignity or physical.mental health) might not be something that is intended by lots of abusers (well, what do I know! – but it seems quite narrow and someone who intended to e.g. control some one by belittling them wouldn’t obviously fall under this description?)

    jj: if that;s right, then at least some of the worries go away…

    elp: I suppose the kind of thing I was thinking of as a one off instance of psychological abuse might count as a threat (which would be dealt with under different laws?). It seems right that losing it once can be different from psychologically abusing though…

  5. ah sorry, stoat, you wrote this post! but yes, if it was the sort of threat that one ought to take seriously and do something (legal) about, then it seems like that would (should?) be covered under a different sort of a law, like you say. seems very tricky, anyway…

  6. A psychiatrist friend told me that a chronic bad attitude can be more damaging than a single slap on the face, especially to children.

  7. My first thought was, “what could be worse phycological abuse than being French, har har. ”

    But the magnitude of the law was apparent even before my childish reaction (fear of the unknown?) could fully form that idea.

    They are certainly ahead of the curve on this one, and I wouldn’t even quibble about the opening drafts; it would be just so helpful to have “a” law. Both to the abuser and the abused.

  8. Carmen – I agree with your psychiatrist friend, although I must admit to being suspicious of psychiatrists….

  9. does anyone else here speak french or live in france…?
    i’ve heard about this and i took a brief look at the le monde article which covers a few broader subjects, too.
    basically, this is a domestic violence law. so, you’re not allowed to verbally abuse your partner/family members.
    there is no way i’m going to go find and read the whole law (french law is terrible) but it has to do with repeated mental abuse. i’m speaking generally here, but i think that might give a better idea of what is at stake/going on.

  10. Ditto, j. I understand that one might want backing for a public comment, but in this case common sense/experience should be strongly in agreement.

  11. What happens in psychological abuse is that the abuser becomes overwhelmed with an inner psychological discordancy, which registers as an extreme form of tension, itself a form of psychological pain. In order to alleviate this feeling of tension, he seeks to transfer it to somebody else, somebody who at the moment isn’t the victim of such tension, but can take on the burden of this huge psychological pain and somehow transfer it away from the abuser.

    It isn’t that the abuser INTENDS to inflict harm — he doesn’t. What he does intend to do is to anaesthetise his feelings by directing his anger and aggression at the potential victim. He is not conscious of his motivations, only of the desire to feel better than he presently does.

    He feels that his situation (of having to tolerate his own inner discordancy) is inherently unjust, and so he doesn’t see why others should condemn him for merely (as he sees it) setting out to alleviate his pain.

  12. Furthermore, it seems that a patriarchal value system, as well as other currently culturally salient and destructive value systems can produce this sense of inner discordancy. Thus one whose values are already rotten is more inclined towards abuse as a from of tension alleviation (and thus, maintenance of the current political and cultural status quo).

  13. reel, you’ve violated our ‘be nice’ policy, so i’ve removed both your offending comment, and the sparring that followed. the point of this blog is to have constructive conversation about issues surrounding feminism. so, if you have a problem with something someone’s said, you need to express it reasonably and specifically, such that a rational discussion can be had about it.

  14. i’ve deleted another reel comment. reel seems to be upset that we are discussing this without having read about it in french. unfortunately, we’re not given any indication of what the english reporting is missing. (comment 9 doesn’t seem to give us any more information than stoat has done, save that reel can speak french.) but anyway, if anyone comes across what they think might be key points lost in translation, do share.

  15. Hi all, sorry not to be up on the french version in much detail. I looked at the le monde link, but it took me ages to get through and my understanding is sufficiently poor for me to worry about whether I’m translating properly.

    JA: thanks for sharing your understanding of the behaviour of some abusers. The kind of cases you describe seem to be ones that would pose difficulties for the ‘intended’ part of the law (on a narrow reading, given JJ’s comment above).
    We shouldn’t rule out that there will be cases that don’t fit your description, though – and might more straightforwardly fit under the description of ‘intended harms’.

  16. Hi RA.
    I’m sorry that you feel unwelcome, that is certainly not the intention of any of us here. Any moderation of comments is simply to ensure the ‘be nice’ policy is respected, and it was reasonably judged that your comments violated these (you my not have intended it as such, but difficulties of interpretation arise in this format).
    Anyone is most welcome to be as critical as they like of posts or comments, as long as the criticism is respectful.

    As I see it, the discussion here is about how the law might be interpreted – whether cases plausibly thought of as psycological violence would fall under this definition.
    It is surely right that reading in detail the law would help with these interpretation issues, but I’m not sure any of us have the translation skills to do that effectively – or the time, as one of your comments indicated it is likely to be a complicated document.

    If you can let us know what you’re concern is here, we’ be glad to hear it.

  17. thank you, stoat.

    my only hope-suggestion is that when moderating one make a distinction between a person attacking an *idea* and a personal attack. ideas don’t have feelings and i don’t see any reason i should be expected to be “nice” to ideas.

    the passage that matters is this one: “Il doit faire référence à des faits précis et qui doivent être datés, de manière à pouvoir les apprécier dans la durée. Il doit également comporter des témoignages, des courriers, des attestations, des SMS, des enregistrements, des certificats médicaux.”

    which means: intention will be proved with precise facts and dates so that the duration can be appreciated [–] and evidence consisting of accounts, letters, text messages, sound recordings, and medical certificates.

  18. But reel, I don’t see anything referring to intention in that quotation.

    It says: “It must refer to specific, dated facts, so that the length of time [of the abuse, presumably] can be documented. It must also include [evidence, as listed by reel].”

  19. I’m concerned, as perhaps RA is, that JA’s characterization of ‘the’ abuser is left undiscussed. 2 things worry me:

    1. I doubt a legal system would or should recognize such a defense.

    2. I’m sceptical about the validity of theories that view comes from, but even if it fit some cases, it does not fit all. There are plenty of people who aim to inflict pain on others. The motives are sometimes power and control and no doubt there are others, for example, lowering a competitor’s performance. I’m envious of people who haven’t experienced that, and slightly incredulous.

  20. That is, I have a hard time believing that, eg, many children fail to observe and accurately label such cases.

  21. @profacero: intention will be established with documents as evidence. that’s the point. the passage i quoted is from the bit about “constituer un dossier pour prouver le harcèlement” which means how to put together your folder to prove the problem/abuse/etc. the french love their dated documents and folders. yes, i inserted the (english) word “intention”, but it was implied in the “il doit” (you should/have a right). thus, it is be left to the accuser to establish that they were accused.

    @jj. unless a child was being helped by the social services already, i have no idea how this would help a child.

    as for the psychological theories of the abuser, the idea that the abused are incapable of breaking “the cycle of violence” is absurd. feminist thought is a perfect example of the opposite.

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