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Online platform helps French expatriates who are victims of domestic violence

In honor of International Women’s Day, May 8, FRANCE 24 focuses on an online platform dedicated to helping expatriate French women who are victims of domestic violence. Seeking help can be more difficult when a woman lives abroad with her abuser and is cut off from a support system of friends and family. Launched in October, Save You has helped over 100 women break the silence and share their scary stories.

“I didn’t hit you hard enough last time. I think you asked for more,” a tall Turkish man yelled, slamming the door on the way out. Nour* Overwhelmed by anxiety. That week, two earthquakes hit Mersin in southern Turkey, where she has been living in isolation for more than a year. A few days later, Noor was shaking herself. “I have to leave the house tonight. He’s armed and I think I’m going to die when he comes back,” she whispered to Caroline B on the phone.

Caroline B., President fighting heart (Warrior’s Hearts) Society, which also runs the save you online platform. Nour and other French expatriate women who are victims of domestic violence can find comfort in her soothing voice for free over the phone, 24 hours a day, no matter where they are in the world. On the other end of the phone, volunteers help them navigate some extremely complex situations, and even help them “avoid the worst” – just like they did with Nour that night.

Save You is the first of its kind. Dedicated to women who have immigrated to France and their children, the platform gives women (and some men) victims of violence a place to tell their stories. Some 43 percent of women who called were victims of psychological violence, while 19 percent were victims of physical violence.It will be launched in October 2022 by the French Fraternity Foundationwhich also invented The Sorority app — an app that lets women help each other by using geolocation to alert other users if someone nearby is in danger.

>> READ MORE: French app to fight violence against women brings ‘revolution’ to Morocco


On the day she called Caroline B. crying, Alice* suffered two kinds of violence. Alice and her English partner left France for Manchester just over a year ago. Last September, she gave birth to a baby girl. Alice says his attitude completely changed after a few months: He tried to stop her from taking care of their daughter and started taking the baby from her arms. The British man’s kicks were periodically interrupted by threats and insults. Alice told FRANCE 24 on the phone what her partner said: “Leave the baby here and go back to France, we don’t need you anymore. Go, you witch.”

This is Alice’s situation – she’s unemployed, doesn’t speak English well, is financially and legally dependent on her partner, and lives away from her family.

Caroline B said Nour found herself in a similar situation, as did the more than 120 others who reached out through Save You. Some of the women she came into contact with had been imprisoned by their partners for 15 years. The situation becomes particularly challenging when women are cut off from their families when they leave their country. Victims often sink into a deep depression after witnessing the dramatic transformation of a man for whom they dropped everything.

trigger element

Alice says her ex-partner’s “explosive” rampage came out of nowhere. During the last weeks of her pregnancy, the baby’s father was extremely supportive. So how did he become so violent that British police had to get involved? “I still don’t get it,” the 40-year-old said.

These sudden and brutal “transformations” are often triggered by childbirth, explains Caroline B. In some cases, the father feels that the mother and child have become his property. It’s like he’s thinking, “You can never leave because of a kid. If you leave, I’ll keep it,” Caroline B. said.

This is essentially Alice’s partner yelling at her, insisting she has no rights in the UK. Unfortunately, his words could not be farther from the truth. If Alice cannot successfully obtain a French passport for her child, she will never be able to legally leave the UK with the child.

Noor also raised children from a previous marriage during Turkey’s long period of isolation. Rescued by Turkish police, alerted by Save You, the young woman managed to escape from her former companions and arrived at Adana airport from Mersin. She spent many long and difficult times there, as the chaos caused by the earthquake grounded all flights to Paris. With no money, and after several stopovers, Noor finally landed at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. Her planned weekend trip finally turned into a 10-month captivity. Exhausted, much thinner and destitute, Noor lost everything. “He took all my confidence away,” the young woman said, before breaking down in tears.

Faced with a flood of calls for help, Caroline B. was filled with righteous indignation because she believed that the French authorities should address the problem head-on. She wondered how many of the more than 1 million women who immigrated to France lived in similar circumstances. Such gender-based violence is not included in any official statistics.

Subject to local laws

Amélia Lakrafi, an MP who represents French nationals living abroad, said that while the French foreign ministry has created a dedicated unit, it is severely short-staffed. “People need to be aware of this in order to deal effectively with the problem,” Lakrafi said. In France, “the popular imagination tends to picture the French expatriate as rich and living a good, happy life,” she said.

Another challenge is trying to apply French policies in other countries. “Our state representatives are not allowed to do whatever they want. We are all very constrained by local laws,” she said.

Lakrafi, who has been telling policymakers for years that this type of gender-based violence needs to be addressed, has been a fan of the online platform from the start. Save You is “the tool we’ve been waiting for,” she said.

Associations such as fraternity foundations have more latitude than the executive branch of government, which is encumbered by its own procedures, she said. However, she added, “Save You will only gain traction if it works with overseas French government agencies such as the French Foreign Office and the Ministry of the Interior.”

The relationship appears to be taking shape. “The French foreign ministry has often allowed us to go faster, and we’re lucky they’ve supported us,” said Priscillia Routier-Trillard, founder of the Fraternity Foundation. Within months of posting, government ministries such as the French foreign ministry posted a link to “Save You”. This has greatly benefited women like Noor and Alice who might not otherwise know about the platform.

know you’re not alone

There are still many legal hurdles to overcome for Alice to live a peaceful life. However, the support she has received from Caroline B. and others at Save You helps her believe in a better tomorrow. Barriers that previously seemed insurmountable now seem to be crumbling, and Alice is able to move into a new home – although she won’t reveal its location for fear her ex-partner will take her daughter away.

Since its launch, lawyers, doctors, social workers and other professionals from all over the world have provided services to save you. This growing network helps ensure more women learn about the platform. “At times, we simply act as a link to a local solution that victims have been desperately looking for for months without success,” explains Caroline B.

Caroline B. gave Alice a priceless gift simply by listening and empathizing. “She listened to me. It was like I could see a way out of the black hole I was in,” Alice said.

Like Alice and Nour, and hundreds of thousands of French women every year, Routier-Trillard and Caroline B. have been victims of domestic violence. For a long time, they were both mired in silent guilt.

“What got me through was providing the support I wanted,” says Caroline B.

We are social animals, Routier-Trillard added. “There’s nothing more powerful in the world than knowing you’re not alone.”

*name changed

This article has been translated from the original French text.

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