French woman pardoned for killing her husband after years of domestic abuse dies at 72

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A Frenchwoman who became a cause célèbre for those fighting domestic violence has died at the age of 72. Jacqueline Sauvage was convicted in 2012 for killing her husband after she and her family endured decades of abuse but was subsequently pardoned by then president François Hollande.

Sauvage was sentenced to 10 years for murder in 2012 after being convicted of firing three bullets into her husband Norbert Marot’s back, a day after their son hanged himself. 

Sauvage testified at her trial that she and her family had endured 47 years of physical violence, including sexual assault, at her husband’s hands.

Her three daughters also testified against their father, saying they, too, were beaten and raped.

Sauvage’s case soon became a rallying cause for feminists and activists battling domestic abuse. Feminist groups, celebrities and politicians rallied behind Sauvage, and petitions calling for her immediate release garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Her murder conviction was upheld on appeal in 2015. But she was freed in December 2016 following a highly unusual pardon from then president François Hollande, who said he believed that “Sauvage’s [rightful] place is not in prison but with her family”, according to a statement from his office at the time.

The move caused controversy among some in the legal profession, who feared the president had overstepped his authority and undermined the independence of France’s judiciary.

‘She died a free woman’

Sauvage’s death was confirmed by one of her daughters, who told AFP the funeral was held on Tuesday.

Both current French President Emmanuel Macron and Hollande honoured her on Twitter.

“The death of Jacqueline Sauvage is a painful reminder of a marital tragedy that shook public opinion,” wrote Hollande, adding: “Many battered women recognised themselves in her.

“Jacqueline Sauvage died a free woman,” Macron tweeted. “She became a symbol of the struggle against violence inflicted on women.”

“Jacqueline Sauvage, through her story and case, helped to raise awareness of the existence of women who were battered for years behind closed doors within the family amid the silence of society,” said Nathalie Tomasini, Sauvage’s lawyer.

According to the local daily La République du Centre, which first broke the news, she died on July 23 at her home in La Selle-sur-le-Bied in the Loiret department south of Paris.

French actress Muriel Robin, who played Sauvage in a hugely successful TV movie in 2018, commented after her death that France did not do enough for battered women.

“We give billions to save the economy of our country but how can we not find a billion to fight domestic violence?” she told Europe 1 Radio.

One woman is killed in France every three days by their partner or ex-partner while marital violence affects 220,000 Frenchwomen every year, according to government figures released in 2019.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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