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Australian’s French domestic violence charity helps expats in lockdown

The service would not be ready to launch in time for France’s looming lockdown, so instead the organisation rushed to create a wide-reaching information campaign using celebrities to help get the message out.

Football legend Eric Cantona, Australian-Indian actor Pallavi Sharda and British-French actor Jane Birkin were recruited to the cause, posting Facebook videos explaining how to seek safety in 22 languages.

Football legends, actors and other celebrities were recruited to help the charity get its message across.

Football legends, actors and other celebrities were recruited to help the charity get its message across.

The charity also used Twitter, Instagram and foreign language media to make their presence felt.

“Those figures out of China, those frightening figures, really pushed us to act,” McGrath said.

“We were not surprised; we were disgusted, and hurt, and heartbroken.

“This is the first time we reached out to victims and we did it because of COVID; we knew how much violence would increase and these foreign women are already vulnerable.”

The charity’s fears were well founded.

Australian Sarah McGrath, right, and team at Women for Women in France.

Australian Sarah McGrath, right, and team at Women for Women in France.

After the first week of lockdown, domestic violence reports jumped 36 per cent in Paris and 32 per cent in regional France.

Reports to the government’s online chat service, where victims can discreetly reach out, jumped 500 per cent above average.

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When it comes to battling domestic abuse France lags behind other countries such as Australia, and has one of the highest rates of violence in the home in Europe.

In 2017 a French government report noted an absence of structured and formalised care, chaotic pathways out of abuse, legal loopholes ripe for exploitation by perpetrators, and a process that left victims feeling isolated.

And those were just the barriers faced by French-speaking people who sought help, let alone foreigners.

McGrath says the language barrier can be prohibitive for those applying for restraining orders and child protection, or filing for divorce.

Many fear deportation and worry about finding safe homes and steady jobs.

“It’s not as simple as just going to the police and making a complaint,” she says.

“The research shows that leaving for any woman, even in her home country, is a really difficult thing. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

WFWF supplies information about victims’ rights and the French system in their native languages.

The charity was started 18 months ago by women who had seen domestic violence in their own immigrant communities within France.

“For a foreign victim, you can’t go and stay with your own family or friends because they might be in another country,” McGrath says.

“Maybe your only network is your abuser’s network, and usually they’re going to support or side with your partner.”

McGrath says the lockdown campaign is just the beginning, with the organisation planning a website and a specialised accompaniment service for foreign victims.

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For that to happen they still need funding, either from the French government, the European Union or a private sponsor.

McGrath wants all abuse victims in France to know exactly how to seek safety and understand their rights.

“We really want to plug that hole, we really want to be there,” she says.

“I’m not necessarily talking about just Australian or English victims, I’m talking about all victims regardless of nationality or religion or language.”

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McGrath hopes the charity will eventually be able to offer victims a one-stop shop to guide their entire journey to safety and independence.

“When they knock on our door we will help them from A to Z,” she says.

“From getting them psychological counselling in their own language if they can’t speak French to organising safe accommodation.

“I really want them to be able to knock on our door and we will be able to hold their hand until the end.”

AAP

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