French state sued for ‘failing to protect’ woman who killed rapist husband
Lawyers representing a woman who killed her stepfather turned husband after 24 years of violence that started when he raped her at 12 are taking legal action against the French state for “gross negligence” after claims the authorities failed to act on reports she was being abused.
Valérie Bacot’s defence team said a summons for liability had been filed with the Paris tribunal. Her lawyers point out that her children twice went to the police to report their father – who was Bacot’s stepfather – for abusing her but no action was taken.
The first police station turned the children away, telling them it “wasn’t their area”, and the second dismissed them, saying “madame should come in herself”, the court heard in testimony this week.
Bacot, 40, is accused of murdering Daniel Polette, 61, in 2016 while he was prostituting her to men out of the back of the family’s car. After a man raped her, Bacot grabbed a pistol that Polette kept in the car and shot Polette in the back of the neck. She told investigators she feared for her own life and those of the couple’s four children.
Nathalie Tomasini, one of two lawyers representing Bacot, said: “A summons for liability for gross negligence has been filed with the Paris court in view of the many failures [of the state].”
She singled out the children’s attempts to report their father’s violence to the police. She said the complaint also questioned a decision in 1995 to reduce charges against Polette – who was living with Bacot’s mother at the time – from the rape of Bacot, then 12, to sexual assault. This led to him being given a more lenient jail term.
Tomasini also holds the French authorities responsible for allowing Bacot’s mother to take her daughter to visit Polette in prison even though “she was a minor and had been raped”.
Polette was allowed to return to the family home after three years in jail, and continued to rape Bacot. At the age of 17 she became pregnant with the first of their four children. “Nobody seemed to find it bizarre that Daniel came back to live with us as if nothing had happened,” she wrote in her book Tout le Monde Savait (Everyone Knew). “Everyone knew but nobody said anything.”
Tomasini said these incidents were not an exhaustive list of the state’s failures.
After Bacot became pregnant, her mother threw her out and Polette installed her in a flat as his wife. Bacot wrote that she and the children lived in fear of provoking Polette’s ire. He broke her nose, hit her over the head with a hammer, arranged for her to have lesbian encounters, which he filmed, and kept her a virtual prisoner. She was not allowed to speak to anyone when she went out shopping, and he had his friends and relatives spy on her, she recounted.
After her arrest for murder, Bacot told police she had been afraid that Polette would begin sexually abusing their daughter, and that she and her children had lived in fear of him.
Asked why she didn’t leave, she said: “When your daily life is a series of blows, threats, insults and humiliations, you end up being incapable of thought … your partner has brainwashed you. And you think everything he says is true. You think the problem is with you and not him and that you deserve everything you get.”
Bacot’s trial will end on Friday. Her legal team includes Janine Bonaggiunta, who defended Jacqueline Sauvage, a victim of domestic violence whose case became a national cause célèbre after she was convicted of killing her violent husband, and who was given a presidential pardon in 2016.
- In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org