PARIS, Jan 30, 2016:
A woman jailed for 10 years for killing her abusive husband after decades of marital hell has become a cause celebre in France, where appeals are growing louder for her to be pardoned.
French politicians and feminists have rallied behind Jacqueline Sauvage, 68, whose case has cast a spotlight on the tricky and controversial legal argument known as “battered woman syndrome”.
The campaign prompted French President Francois Hollande to meet her daughters and lawyers on Friday, after which an aide said he needed “time for reflection” before deciding whether to grant a rare presidential pardon in the case.
Sauvage was married for 47 years to Norbert Marot, a violent alcoholic who she said raped and beat her and her three daughters and also abused her son.
On Sept 10, 2012, the day after her son hanged himself, Sauvage shot her husband three times in the back with a rifle.
She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison in October 2014, which was upheld on appeal in December 2015 as the state rejected her plea of self-defence.
“She should have responded to her husband’s violence with a proportional act,” said the public prosecutor at the time. “Three shots fired in the back is not acceptable.”
Sauvage’s lawyer Nathalie Tomasini appealed to the court to “push the limits of self-defence applied to situations of marital violence.”
In French law for an act to be considered self-defence it must be seen as proportional and in direct response to an act of aggression.
Killing in response to repeated acts of violence suffered over decades, as in Sauvage’s case, does not meet this test.
The judge at the original hearing extensively questioned Sauvage’s passivity faced with the violence and incest carried out by her husband.
“We were afraid of him, he terrified us,” one of her daughters told the court.
Another of her daughters, raped at the age of 16, described her father’s death as a “relief”.
After the case was lost, the group Osez le Feminisme (Dare To Be Feminist) called for the definition of self-defence to be expanded in cases of “female victims of violence”.
The case has seized the public imagination, with an online petition gathering more than 400,000 signatures while women politicians have visited Sauvage in prison and lawmakers have written to Hollande urging her release.
Seven members of female activist group Femen — known for appearing topless —- protested outside her prison in Saran in north-central France last week.
One of Sauvage’s lawyers told AFP the meeting with Hollande gave them “hope that this is the first step towards a presidential pardon”.
However during his 2012 presidential campaign Hollande distanced himself from such pardons, describing them as belonging to “a different concept of power”.
He has used the power only once, when he freed convicted bank robber Philippe El Shennawy — who had spent 38 years behind bars — in 2014.
The question of whether a woman who kills her husband after suffering years of abuse should be considered to have acted in self-defence has long perplexed courts all over the world.
Experts coined the phrase “battered woman syndrome” in the 1970s to explain the psychological state of a woman subjected to such repeated violence.
This was seen as crucial as women — like Sauvage — would face repeated questions from judges and juries over why they failed to leave or report their husbands.
The “battered woman” defence has seen women acquitted in some cases, but it has remained hotly contested.
Some scholars and feminists have argued that battered woman syndrome testimony merely portrays women as irrational, incapable of self-control and incapable of finding a legal solution to their abuse.
In France, a woman abused for 12 years by her husband, was acquitted in 2012 after stabbing him in the throat when he tried to strangle her.
Because she had responded to a direct aggression, the woman, named Alexandra Lange, was able to prove self-defence.
She has called for Sauvage to be pardoned, telling France Bleu Nord radio the courts “didn’t recognise Jacqueline as a victim, but as a criminal.”
“She was only retaliating against 47 years of attacks. What would they have preferred? That she become one of the 118 women who die each at the hands of their violent husbands?” Lange said.