Quatennens case: “A criminal offense is not a private matter”

This weekend, Adrien Quatennens, deputy LFI admitted to having committed violence against his wife in the context of their divorce. Several other political figures are currently in turmoil, including Julien Bayou (EELV). Most of these cases have in common that they are dealt with parallel to the courts, whether in the media or by internal committees of the political parties concerned. We asked Audrey Darsonville, specialist in domestic violence, her opinion on this type of management of violence against women.

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Actu-Juridique: As a specialist in domestic violence, what does the Quatennens case inspire in you?

Audrey Darsonville: The fact that Le Canard enchaîné revealed the contents of the handrail filed by the wife of Adrien Quatennens in the context of their divorce, when she did not want to publicize her case shocked me. I understand the interest in terms of information to reveal the possible distortion between the speech of a party which wants to be at the forefront of the fight against violence against women and the behavior of its representatives, but if the protection of secrecy falls, we will discourage the victims from speaking out. Obviously, this only concerns a small minority of media personalities, but it raises questions when you know how crucial it is to protect the voices of victims.

Legal News: This media coverage prompted him to publish a press release on social networks on September 18 in which he delivers his version and admits to having committed violence…

AD: The reaction of certain members of LFI, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon himself, welcoming his approach may have caused the seriousness of the facts to be lost sight of. By the way, the most difficult thing in these cases is to prove the facts, here Adrien Quatennens recognizes them and even gives the details. It is not certain that he took the measure of what this implied from a legal point of view. What he explicitly recognizes are not the usual tussles between spouses in divorce proceedings, but criminal offences. The slap is intentional violence with the aggravating circumstance that the victim is a spouse, partner or civil union partner. The laptop “snatched”, in other words taken from his wife brutally, is also violence. He also acknowledges having sent “too many messages”, this could be qualified as moral harassment between spouses.

Actu-Juridique : His text is both a confession and the sign of an awareness of his faults, does this have any influence on the criminal qualifications?

AD: Judges always prefer to hear that the author is aware of having committed reprehensible acts and regrets them rather than the reverse; but what is called active repentance does not erase the offence, it may simply lighten the penalty.

Actu-Juridique: The media coverage also seems to have triggered the opening of an investigation…

AD: The prosecution has indeed taken up the case, despite the wife’s desire not to file a complaint but to stick to a simple handbook. We do not know what motivated the decision of the prosecution, the media coverage, or the fact that it is a personality, unless it is simply a sign of an increasingly mobilized justice on the question… the fact remains that even if the victim does not wish to lodge a complaint, legally the prosecution can open an investigation. Obviously, in so-called “intimate” offences, the victim’s lack of cooperation poses a real problem of proof, which is why in practice there is a tendency to prosecute only if the victim participates in the procedure.

Legal News: Other politicians are in turmoil, including Julien Bayou. About her Sandrine Rousseau declared in a television program that she had discussed with the plaintiff who was on the verge of suicide and that a journalistic investigation was in progress. We have the impression that all these cases are settled at LFI and EELV in between; like the church before them, some political parties seem tempted to do their dirty laundry in-house.

AD: It is surprising that in recent cases, the first instinct is not to encourage victims to file a complaint with the police. That a political party sets up an internal structure to deal with the political aspects of these cases, we can hear it but it seems to go beyond this framework when we read the press articles on the functioning of these cells for dealing with violence. We don’t take justice into our own hands. A criminal offense is not a private matter, it is a matter of public order because it harms society as a whole. It is a paradox, moreover, because these two parties specifically want violence against women to be priority issues for society and when they are concretely confronted with the problem, they deal with it in private. We know nothing about these internal committees against violence, how are they constituted, who are their members, do they have powers, which ones? Can we go there with a lawyer? What procedures are applied? It is clear that the risks are numerous: muzzling the words of the victims, varying the response according to the importance of the person targeted, depriving the accused of defence…

Legal News: Specifically, Taha Bouhafs had to give up running for the legislative elections because of an anonymous testimony and without knowing what he was accused of…

AD: He was indeed the object of a very strong political sanction on the basis of facts that may be true, perhaps false, in any case not demonstrated by a public authority, the only one able to establish guilt. in a state of law, at the time and against which, for what we know from reading the press, the person concerned had no means of defence. The advantage of going to court is also that the police have the means of investigation to establish the reality of the facts. These committees serve the interests of victims as much as they violate the presumption of innocence.

Actu-Juridique : We have the feeling that all this aims to circumvent justice, on the grounds that the latter would not listen to the voice of women and would not be effective enough. Is it correct ?

AD: It is true that justice has taken time to take the measure of the problem and to train to deal with it. And it cannot be denied that there are still a lot of malfunctions. But significant progress has been made. In 2019 and 2020 we had two major laws against domestic violence which were accompanied by very proactive policies in the prosecution. The fight against domestic violence has become a priority, there are now dedicated training courses for magistrates. And when justice puts the means, it is infinitely more effective and protective than the media or the committees of political parties. Because she is able to listen, investigate, take protective measures. Because it also ensures respect for the presumption of innocence. And unlike internal committees and other gender-based violence observatories, it acts within the framework of public hearings. Justice is really getting up to speed and we can only recommend that victims turn to it.

Quatennens case: “A criminal offense is not a private matter”