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26 photographies of women victims of violence by Catherine Cabrol
Why do we stay?
I stayed 14 years, do you realise how long that is? It was always threats, harsh words, shouting, domineering fits, especially in front of friends. He'd humiliate us, squeeze un and we had to get him things instantly, he'd snap his fingers and it absolutely had to be done right there right now, without a thank you or a please. He never had a penny for us, but he always managed to buy alcohol. I wasn't submissive, but I shut up because I knew he would take it out on the children.
Years went by and one day, he hit me. That's when the words "domestic abuse" came to me, that's when I said stop. I decided to leave him. Once I had found a flat, I ran away with our son.
A few months later, I picked up the phone and called them. I didn't think I could cope all alone and as soon as I got in touch with this association, I knew these people could help me. So I filed for divorce and we never went back home.
You can't love someone who abuses you; it's like some kind of addiction. I think that on a subconscious level we're terrified of loneliness and that's why we don't leave.
The other day, I heard my son singing, I hadn't ever heard him sing in 13 years. Just for that, I know I did the right thing.
I was born in Senegal and came to France at the age of 4, where I was raised just like in Africa, but since we all lived crammed in a council flat. We were three adults and twelve children living in a three-bed flat. I remember the beatings, always for unfair reasons. My father was very much influenced by the comments he had heard about "French Girls". When a man came to our house, we had to lower our eyes and dress in boubous to hide our curves. In Mali, women are born to honour their family, which means work, raise children and serve their husband like slaves.
I had no idea of what an excised woman looked like. The first time I went to see a gynaecologist, he said: “You're excised! They really botched you up!” I was 18 and I went ballistic! My mother admitted that I had been excised when I was two weeks old… But how can you get someone to ‘butcher’ your baby daughter with a razor blade? How can you do that to your baby? Even in the name of tradition or custom, it revolts me… They had stolen something from me when I was two weeks old, I wanted to die!
One day, I stood up to my father; I suffered the beating without crying, took my belongings and fled to a girlfriend's house. The school nurse and counsellor told me to file a complaint at the police station, and I also asked the Child Welfare office for help. I haven't lived at home for four years.
Today, I feel a lot better because no one beats me anymore. I have left "family and tradition" for a world where I can be myself. Everyday, I see how tough the world is, but it's beautiful because I am free and no one will ever control my life anymore. I want to live my own life and to follow my dreams. I will try to fulfil them, to be independent and become a real woman. I've decided to undergo clitoral reconstructive surgery lifetime issues with love and sexuality. I have managed to obtain official residency documents without my parents' help; I have found support among African women and that makes me feel alive.
I was 14 when my mother forced me to leave Morocco, she sold me for dirhams. I arrived in France in a Moroccan family with four kids, three girls and a boy. They burnt my passport the day I arrived. I was exploited 24 hours a day, I was cleaning, cooking, hand washing clothes, I was never allowed to go out, I slept in the attic where there was no heat, I was not allowed to use the shower, only cold water, no shampoo. One of the children called me “the bitch” and told the other kids they could hit me.
I tried to commit suicide three times: taking tablets, falling down the stairs and swallowing rat poison… One day, as the mother hit me once again, I couldn’t stand it anymore, I escaped with only one shoe on, half-naked. By a phone box, I asked a man to help me, telling him I had no ID papers and that I was scared of the police, of everything. He advised me to call the police anyway. I spoke to them on the phone. They didn’t believe me but still came to pick me up. They questioned me at the police station, they were really nice, I stayed there for two days. I lodged a complaint, not really knowing what I was signing, I could neither read nor write, I never went to school.
I found myself in foster care where a friend offered me to work for a Jewish family. I did not know what being Jewish was. I worked there for five years and that was a time of great joy. I contacted the association Voix d’Elles Rebelles and the Comite Contre l’Esclavage Moderne (Comity against Modern Slavery) who supported me. I met a psychiatrist and psychologists who helped me through.
Today I live with my aunt and I often go and see my Jewish family.
I am teaching myself how to read and write French. I would like to train as a pre-school assistant. I want to be independent, no more being scared of going out or meeting people. I want to trust.
I am the youngest of 10, my father is Algerian and my mother is French. My father kept his salary for himself and my mother raised us on child benefit. When my sisters got married, there were no more government money coming in and I was placed in foster care at the age of 11.
I came back home when I was 15, my mother had gone without leaving an address and my father didn't even feed me. I shop-lifted to eat, was arrested and ended up in court, but the judge let me go. I started selling myself for cocaine or heroin.
When I was 17, I was on parole: behind bars during the week and free at the weekends. I went to a rehabilitation centre in Lozère. I went back to my Dad's house in Lille, then lived in squats and with the French Salvation Army. For three years, I sold myself for drugs. I met the father of my first daughter, a Moroccan who put me up at his parents', but they kicked me out when I was pregnant. I ended up in a home for teenage-mothers, quit both drugs and prostitution and left this abusive man.
When my daughter was 3, I had to leave the foster home. I found a furnished flat in a red-light district and slipped back into drugs and prostitution. My daughter had just been taken away from me when I met Bernard and the Mouvement du Nid association. I successfully kicked my drug habit and was allowed to see my daughter at the weekends. I then met my second daughter's father, an Algerian who took me to Spain, where he prostituted me in a bar in Alicante. I called Bernard to get me out of there. He sent me to the Barcelona branch of Mouvement du Nid, where a nun helped me go home to Lille. But this man came back and I fell pregnant. I filed a complaint for procuring and he was jailed.
My sister took me in, I went to rehab and found a flat, still under legal supervision. In 2003, I met Lilian, who paid off all my debts and helped me cope. Since then, I haven't relapsed. I am still under methadone treatment, little by little I reduce doses and I think I have finally pulled through. I had a third daughter with Lilian and I now live with him and my three children. As soon as the youngest starts school, I will look for a proper job.
Between the ages of 6 and 9 my father committed incest with me, surrounded by silence, as he had asked me to keep it quiet and not to tell my mother.
My parents finally separated after I turned 11, incest became more violent, with sexual intercourse. My father prostituted me, exchanged me in adult networks, sold me to men…. He made me live at night. I was harmed physically and mentally, I considered suicide. At age 9, I suffered from eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia…My only concern was to escape from my father!
The only person who knew what was happening to me was my neighbour. One day, she told my mother and took me to the police station. I talked for hours, told them everything, I cried loads, I was subjected to their inquisitions, I nearly did not survive this ordeal.
That word, “incest”, you never hear it, it doesn’t exist in criminal law.
I would like a specific crime to be created for incest, for it to be introduced in our criminal laws because you cannot fight against a taboo without naming it first.
October 2003, Les Lilas, Seine-Saint-Denis: I'm cold in this gloomy 15 square meter-studio flat. My husband went to Africa, leaving me a 100 euro, to survive during his two-month absence. It’s barely enough to feed on bread soaked in milk several times a day. I don't wash anymore. Does it matter? Who cares? I don't see the point in getting dressed anymore, I don't have any clothes anyway: what I'm wearing right now is all I have. My heart beats, but my sould has left my body, even the bruises don't hurt anymore. I can't feel anything anymore. I stay for days staring into space or at the TV screen… Nobody. Nothing. Only the humming sound of the TV.
Suddenly, I hear a woman's voice telling the story of my life: married by her parents at the age of 15, leaving Africa for France, a brutal husband who raped and hit her… She recalled the violence and the fear, every day and every night. She spoke of this man who turned her life into a nightmare that she never dared tell a soul about… I listen, crying, to this woman who says things I could have never thought possible, who explains how she escaped a life that wasn't worth living.
Something inside me is coming back to life; she finishes her story and I am no longer the same. I know I must leave, I too must find the strength, I am not alone anymore. The woman on TV talked about the people who helped and protected her, their name starts with an A and they work at the town hall, that's all I remember. Tomorrow, I will go!
Excerpt from the book “On m’a volé mon enfance” (“They stole my childhood”), Anne Carrière Publisher
I was abused physically and mentally by my mother between the ages of 5 and 14. We lived together as she had separated from my father when I was 3. I never saw another man in the house. She was two different persons: the loving mother and the violent mother. To protect myself I hid behind lies, never confided in anyone. It was a vicious circle, as soon as she saw me reacting to her violence she would hit me some more. Alcohol, tablets, drugs and loneliness created her violence.
One day, I physically replied to her violence, I was 14, she had accused me of stealing, she was drunk and looking for a fight. I had had enough, I slapped her… She locked me in my bedroom, banged her head on the walls: “I’m going to call the police and tell them you hit me”. The police came, she went over the windowsill, threatening to jump, it was her usual blackmail: “I will throw myself out of the window”. The police told me: “you have to be nice to your mum”.
I went to see the social worker at my school, asking that all I was about to say would stay confidential, not a word to my mother of course. That night, it was the most violent she had ever been, the social worker had betrayed me, I felt abandoned, no adults could be trusted. My mother finally left me alone in the house and during the night she was arrested for being drunk in the streets, she told them everything, they came for me… Police station, hospital, juvenile police where my father met me and gave me the choice of coming to live with him.
My mother stopped drinking, we saw each other once or twice and she died a year later… She threw herself out of her bedroom window. I did not see an association for people in my situation but instead I followed a therapy involving art, music, painting, I was also an avid reader.
Today I’m in love, I am in a stable relationship with a lovely man and we are trying to build a family. I am happy I am controlling my anger, I am optimistic, I now have the choice not to do to my children what my mother did to me.