Fight their violencebroadcast on November 16, 2022 at 10:45 p.m. on France 2 in the show Infrared, is the latest film produced by Mélissa Theuriau, who has been documenting domestic violence for years. She fought for more than a year with the Ministry of Justice to obtain authorization to put a camera in the camera of a support group for perpetrators of domestic violence. This is happening in Cergy in the Val-d’Oise within the prison integration and probation service.
Surrounded by three facilitators, a psychologist and a director, ten men already sentenced have three months to no longer deny or minimize but recognize the acts they have committed. Three months to reflect on their violence, accept it and fight it. In France, in 2020, more than 17,000 men were convicted of domestic violence.
We hope that this film, which tackles male violence and its mechanisms, a powerful taboo in our society, will push our politicians to provide the means to develop support groups. They should follow the example of Belgium where, thanks to this type of care started in 1990, the recidivism rate for perpetrators of violence has fallen to 10% compared to 50% in France.
Interview with the journalist and producer behind this necessary documentary.
Prevent the recurrence of domestic violence
Marie Claire : Why did you want to produce a film about the perpetrators of domestic violence?
Melissa Theuriau: I have been personally and professionally involved for quite a few years in the fight against domestic violence. I have already given voice in many films to victims, documented the limits of judicial protection, and rather than continuing to show the obvious, it seemed essential to me to show the perpetrators of domestic violence.
It is time to lean on those who commit the incomprehensible. The irreparable. If we don’t look into their history, their personal trajectory, their past, their blockages, we will live in a society where the same violence will continue to be repeated ad infinitum. This is what allowed me to convince Catherine Alvaresse, Documentary Director of France Televisionto follow in the middle of Covid, this internship to try to understand the mechanisms of this violence.
It took us more than a year with the Ministry of Justice, then with the management of the penitentiary service for integration and probation of Cergy where the psychologist and the counselors were very reluctant to have a camera, to get permission to film this camera. We obviously gave them the opportunity to see the film before it was broadcast so that they could validate it and they did not ask for any modification.
The vast majority of these men do not at all recognize the facts with which they are accused.
Is the #MeToo wave breaking the taboo of male violence?
In magazines and print media including Marie Claire is part of it, you have been talking about these fragile subjects for a long time, impossible to do on television and even less with a long-term camera like the documentaries that I accompany. But you’re right, since women’s voices have been released, the focus has been on these violent men, knowing that the national repeat rate for perpetrators of domestic violence is 50%. This means that a violent man in a couple or in a home, in half of the cases, will reproduce his violence after his prison sentence. We must therefore listen to them, and treat them.
This course is for men convicted of domestic violence, they can always reinvent their past, but they can’t deny it.
Besides, 80% of these men, you say, do not recognize the acts of violence of which they are accused…
Absolutely. Initially, it is staggering, the vast majority of these men do not recognize at all the facts of which they are accused. They say that their partner is half crazy, “she has frailties”, and they have come to be violent.
Then during the ten sessions that we film, we see how, little by little, their versions change, how their awareness is born. And at the end of the course, these men are almost asking for a follow-up treatment, they want to continue talking whereas at the beginning, they were forced to.
In Belgium, where this care has existed since 1990, the recidivism rate has fallen to 10% compared to 50% in France. These are relentless numbers.
The participants of the course “no longer have the possibility of justifying themselves”
In France, in 2021, 6,000 male perpetrators of violence were monitored. It’s better but it’s not enough…
Yes, this support is still timid, the idea of this film is to inspire other prison services, to convince them to provide resources. The psychologist who motivated me to produce this film and who works in Pontoise was, at the start, specialized with victims. She saw the limits of this work and decided to specialize in the care of perpetrators of violence. She detects control mechanisms like no one else. I learned so much by his side. It’s a radar, it manages to destroy certain reflexes in these men and above all, it trains the advisers.
It’s good to set up an internship but if the counselors are not trained, you will continue to be taken around by these men. Their control and manipulation mechanisms, which work on their partner, also work on the staff in prison. This is what I wanted to show with the director Florie Martin: put in the means and train, thanks to seasoned psychologists, the personnel who accompany this protocol, and the results will be at the end.
30 to 40% of these men have themselves been victims of violence, yet the psychologist warns them that this should in no way justify their actions.
Yes, I too was challenged by the words of the psychologist when she said to them: “I do not deny the violence you experienced as a child, it is important. It must be treated, but in no case should it mirrors the one you commit, moreover, abused children do not all become perpetrators of violence.”
She makes them think, they no longer have the possibility of justifying themselves: “I experienced violence, my father beat my mother, inevitably, I will repeat it.” We can clearly see that they are helpless because we have never spoken to them like this.
In the course you are filming, apart from two reluctant men, the others manage to work on themselves.
Yes and that gives me a lot of hope because we demonize them, we perceive them as monsters, but they remain men. I have also listened to many victims who have been asking for years that we finally look at the perpetrators of violence, if we want to move forward.
It’s very interesting to see the path traveled by these men during this internship. The two who resist will need more time, but a seed has been sown.
Dismantle the mechanisms of violence from childhood
Shouldn’t the fight against violence go through the education of children, and especially boys, from an early age?
Yes, and that’s what the majority of these men lacked in childhood. Today, we talk about the importance of educating our boys and that gives me hope. I had a boy before having a girl, and I put a lot of energy into raising my son successfully. Not academically, I don’t care, but I want this teenager growing into a young man to do well. Obviously, he has the image of his own parents, I hope that we return this intelligence of collective life to him even if we do not do everything well.
I dream of making a film about adolescent boys who begin to have love affairs, and enter into sexuality at the time of this militant feminist wave from which I find that they are very much excluded.
Has the impact of these courses been measured?
No, and I regret that there are no official statistics. The justice system should carry out studies on men who have gone through these courses.
The only hindsight we have on that of Cergy is that, out of 165 men followed between 2008 and 2015, only four of them reoffended in Val-d’Oise. I take this figure with a grain of salt, because some have been able to move, and it is not known if they have reoffended outside the department. But it’s still very encouraging.
Fighting Their Violence, produced by Mélissa Theuriau and directed by Florie Martin. At 10:25 p.m., on “France 2, Infrared”.
The broadcast will be followed by a debate moderated by Marie Drucker, with Katell Pouliquen, editorial director of “Marie Claire” on set. This continuous evening devoted to violence against women on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of 3919, will begin with the broadcast at 9:10 p.m. of the film “After the silence” with Clovis Cornillac.