Like her cats, Alexandra Lange has had nine lives.
For 14 years, this mother of four children was a victim of domestic violence. She was beaten, threatened and humiliated by her husband, until the day came she thought he would kill her.
But she killed him first.
Alexandra was acquitted three years ago. But she still vividly remembers when she tried to get help.
“When I called the police to press charges, they saw me standing there with just a little blood on me. Well, you could still see traces around the neck, a bit of blood around my mouth. And there was my eye which was still swollen, with a bump the size of a ping-pong ball under the arch of my eyebrow. And the cop, who stayed in his car, asked, ‘Are you the woman who wants to file a complaint?’
‘Well, yes, it’s me. I’ve been beaten by my husband and I can’t take it anymore’ I replied. ‘But you’re not bleeding enough’, he said.
‘Excuse me? Well, too bad, I’ll come back to you when I’m dead’ was my reply”.
Alexandra’s story was turned into a book and then a film called “L’Emprise” or “The Hold”.
It tells the story of her being beaten by her husband until, in 2009, she kills him.
In court she argued it was self-defense. She stabbed him while he was strangling her.
The jury agreed.
But before she was freed, Alexandra spent 18 months in prison, and she was only reunited with her children last year.
“When I committed this act, I went to prison thinking I was the only woman to have killed her husband because he beat me. And then I saw a report on television.
I was still incarcerated, and I saw this report about women in a prison in the north of France, where I hear that this woman, and that woman and this one killed their husbands under the “yoke” of “domestic violence”. And I realised, wow, I am not the only one. Not the only woman to kill her husband in self-defense.”
This is what the lawyers for Jacqueline Sauvage argued. Jacqueline, a current cause celebre in France, fatally shot her husband in 2012, who had abused her, and her children, for over 45 years. her lawyers argued legitimate defense even if it was “delayed”.
The jury disagreed and she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
It was only after a national petition was launched that, last January, Sauvage was pardoned by President Hollande
Eva Darlan is a French actress who was one of the leaders of this petition.
Herself a victim of incest and domestic violence, she supports a proposed law called Delayed legitimate defense better-known as the “Battered woman syndrome.” Today, only Canada has such legislation.
“It’s a law which will protect women. Of course legitimate defense should also be delayed because you can’t only defend yourself when you’re being killed. Like in the case of Jacqueline Sauvage, she had just been beaten up. The time she goes to get her gun, that’s no longer legitimate defense? That’s just not acceptable. The sentence Jacqueline Sauvage received was unjust and scandalous. Very unjust and painful,” says Darlan.
Eva produced a one-woman show called “Crue et Nue” or “Raw and Naked” where she draws on her own experience of violence and abuse. Although there are some humorous moments, she says domestic violence is no laughing matter. She was abused by her husband for two years before leaving him.
“Existing laws aren’t enforced, or not really enforced, or just a bit. The restraining order, you know, the law which says you can’t approach within 500 metres, and all that, it is rarely enforced. The moral harassment, it’s almost never enforced. Me, I had an enormous file full of data on moral harassment and nothing happened,” complains Darlan.
The case of Jacqueline Sauvage has brought the emotional issue of domestic violence back in the public spotlight. How does society prevent victims from dying at the hands of their abusers?
It is estimated that in France alone, one woman dies every three days from domestic violence.
Luc Frémiot is a magistrate who has helped victims of domestic violence for over 10 years. He has also written a book about the tough role of magistrates in court in which devotes a section to domestic violence.
But Luc Frémiot was also the attorney general for Alexandra Lange’s trial. His tough questioning during her trial as well as his calling for her acquittal were featured in the film.
Yet for Fremiot, Jacqueline Sauvage is a different story. While he says her verdict was unjust, he worries that rewriting the laws on self-defense could send a wrong message: that the law cannot protect these victims .
“What shocks me is that we are going to give these women a blank check, almost a license to kill when they believe there is no alternative. Because we start from the belief that they are in a permanent mortal danger which isn’t true.
There are times when things are better. These times, that we call the honeymoons, where the “protagonist” of this violence tries to go back towards his wife, promising that he will stop. There are many periods between these scenes of violence and it’s during these times that they should take advantage of the situation to go and file a complaint, to contact a lawyer or an association.
One can understand that a woman has a legitimate reason to hate this person who has been beating her for years. She could plan a murder in telling herself, ‘I’ve had enough. I am going to kill him.’ And it’s possible to plan a murder under these conditions in saying that it was a delayed legitimate defense. There. I am not guilty. This just isn’t possible. It puts into question all the principles of law and the rules of society,” says Frémiot
Morgane Seliman was a victim of domestic violence for over four years before she filed a complaint and succeeded in having her husband sentenced to prison.
She has written a book called He stole my life, hoping to help others who want to “escape this circle of violence”. She also explains why she stayed so long with her abuser.
“It really started when I was pregnant and often about nothing. It would start in the morning, I didn’t put away the TV remote, or didn’t put the cushions back in their right place. And all this was just a pretext to hit me and to start his famous “countdown.”
Knowing that I would put our son down for his nap at two o’clock, he would tell me ‘In four hours I’m going to beat you, in two hours, in one hour, in ten minutes’, until that fatal hour arrived,” she says.
Her answer to the question ‘Why did you stay so long?’ is typical of women who find themselves in this situation.
“Somewhere, there was love,” insists Morgane. “I always had that hope. I am pregnant, I will start a family and that man will change, he will become good. And I’m scared. This fear will take up more and more place because I tell myself this man is crazy and that he will kill me. He might take it out on my family.
And on top of that, anyway, there comes a moment where he hits me so much, every day, that it becomes a ritual. And that the only thing I can think about is what mood he will be in, hoping that tomorrow I will be alive to feed my son and then there, you don’t have any more time to think about leaving or anything else,” she says.
Today Morgane lives in Normandy with her son after hiding for over a year. She said she is grateful to the associations who helped her.
But she still worries. Her ex-husband is no longer in jail. He has the legal right to see their son. He threatened her when she wrote her book:.
“I’m not as scared as I was before, that’s for sure, but fear remains. It’s not the same type of fear. Right now, I am scared that one day he will lose it, and that day, he will do it. He will kill me.”