Reporting domestic abuse to the French justice system

Anyone who has experienced domestic abuse in France can file a complaint to report the abuse, even if they do not have residency rights. Filing a complaint is a very important step and may be a prerequisite for procedures related to safety, accommodation or even divorce and child custody.

Verified by Commissaire Gabrielle Hazan and Maître Pauline Rongier on 30/05/2022

Know the facts

Domestic abuse is prohibited by French law. If your partner or ex-partner demonstrates abusive behaviours towards you and/or your children, you can file a complaint.

If you decide to file a complaint with the police, the police will investigate, then forward your complaint to a public prosecutor known as the “procureur de la République”, who will take charge of the case and decide how to proceed.

Although optional, it is recommended to hire a lawyer who will be able to advise and help you with these procedures that can be particularly complex in France. If your resources are too limited to pay for their services, you can apply for legal aid or “aide juridictionnelle” to cover the costs.

In France, protective measures are decided by the judge, not the police.

  • A complaint is an important step in seeking justice for what you have experienced.

    This step may also be required for future applications related to your safety, your residency rights, housing, and divorce and child custody arrangements.

  • The police may sometimes detain the perpetrator of the abuse immediately for a short time, up to 48 hours. This is known as detention or “garde à vue”. This enables the investigation to be brought forward, but it is not a conviction.

    However, the procedure after filing a complaint for domestic abuse can take a very long time. The system has improved in recent years, but there are still many issues.

    Unfortunately, you have to be patient and proactive when you engage the French justice system, which can be particularly difficult when you are just trying to survive.

The procedure

In France, it is possible to file a complaint:

  • in person at any police station, either a “commissariat de police” or “brigade de gendarmerie
  • by post to a public prosecutor known as the “procureur de la République”.
  • It is recommended to prepare as much as possible before filing your complaint by following the steps below:

    • try to gather as much evidence as possible
    • note the contact details of any witnesses
    • record all the abusive behaviour you can remember, from the first to the most recent.
  • If you don't feel ready to file a formal complaint, you can start by reporting the abuse to the police online through their multilingual online chat service for victims of gender-based violence.

    They will be able to give you advice depending on your situation, or send a police officer to intervene if necessary.

    Your exchange can remain completely anonymous if you wish. But in the most serious cases of violence or if you are under 18, they will be obliged to report the facts to a public prosecutor called “procureur de la République”. The public prosecutor may decide to conduct an investigation and possibly prosecute the perpetrator of the violence.

    Following this written exchange:

    • They will record the facts you report on an information sheet.
    • They will give you a reference number for your file.
    • They will ask for your address and telephone number if you want a police investigator to contact you. At this point, you can also ask them to contact you by e-mail if you are not able to understand French.
    • The investigator will contact you within seven days. At that time, you can request the presence of an interpreter when you make your formal complaint.
    • If you have not heard from them after seven days, you can write to them again by chat, specifying your reference number.
  • A complaint or “plainte” is an official act that triggers an investigation.

    A log or “main courante” is an official document that simply records the facts you report but does not usually trigger an investigation.

    In the context of domestic abuse, police officers are not authorised to suggest that you file a “main courante” instead of a “plainte”. However, you have the right to ask for a “main courante”, if you would prefer it to a “plainte”.

    Note: In cases of domestic abuse, the police have to send the “main courante” to the public prosecutor or “procureur de la République”. The public prosecutor may then decide to carry out an investigation and possibly prosecute the perpetrator of the abuse if the violence is considered to be very serious.

  • If you do not speak French and/or are afraid that the police will not respect your rights, you can present this letter to them.

    When you arrive at the reception desk of the police station, you can tell the receptionist that you would like to be dealt with discreetly.

    They will ask you for several pieces of information:

    • A document proving your identity, for example your identity card or passport. You will not have to present a residence permit or “titre de séjour”: the law stipulates that anyone in France may file a complaint, even if they do not have residency rights.
    • Your home address. You can choose another address for your safety; for example, the address of someone you trust, or your lawyer, or an organisation offering free services known as an “association”.

    You can also ask to meet with a social worker or psychologist if you would like. This will depend on the availability of specialist personnel at the police station you visit.

    You can also request the contact details of an organisation specialised in helping people who have experienced abuse. This is called an “association” .

    An investigator will then come to meet you to carry out an interview or “audition”, to take a written record of your statement.

  • If you prefer, you can file your “plainte” by posting it to a public prosecutor known as the “procureur de la République”. You can ask a lawyer or an “association” to help you write the letter and send it.

    The “procureur” will then send your complaint to a police department, which will be responsible for the investigation.

    They will then invite you to a police station known as a “commissariat de police” or “brigade de gendarmerie” to take a written record of your statement during an interview or “audition”.

    To file your complaint by post, follow these steps:

    • Write a letter using this template. Be sure to include the following elements:
      • your surname, first names, date and place of birth and full contact details (address and telephone number)
      • a detailed account of the facts, specifying the date and place of the incident
      • the name of the perpetrator of the abuse
      • the names and addresses of any witnesses
      • a description of the consequences of the abuse on you and your children, if you have any
      • documents providing evidence.
    • Keep a copy of the letter in case you need it later.
    • The letter must be addressed to the “procureur de la République”. To find their contact details, you can use this directory by entering your postcode and selecting “tribunal judiciaire”. You can choose a court in the place where you live, where the perpetrator of the abuse lives, or where the abuse was committed.
    • You can submit the letter in person to the court’s reception desk or send it by “lettre recommandée avec accusé de réception”, which is the only way to have proof of receipt. Keep the receipt as proof of postage.
  • You can ask a lawyer to accompany you to the “commissariat” or the “gendarmerie” for your “audition”.

    An investigator will take a written record of your statement. This discussion is known as an interview or an “audition”. Things to know:

    • If you do not speak French, you can present this letter to them and ask for an interpreter. The police have an obligation to assign one to you. In practice, this will depend on the availability of interpreters in your language. They may ask you to come back at another time.
    • You can ask to see a woman if you prefer. If a woman officer is available, they will ensure that she conducts your interview.

    The officer will ask you questions to fully understand the situation and will complete a document with you to assess the urgency of your situation, known as the “grille d’évaluation du danger”. Questions will include:

    • your condition, for example:
      • are you injured?
      • are you afraid for yourself and/or your children?
      • are you depressed or feeling overwhelmed, without a solution?
    • your partner or ex-partner, for example:
      • do they have firearms (declared or not)?
      • do they use alcohol, drugs, medication?
      • do they have a history of mental health issues?
    • the abuse you have experienced, for example:
      • has your partner or ex-partner ever been abusive towards you?
      • do they try to control what you do (clothes, makeup, going out, work, etc.)?
      • do they subject you to constant monitoring, psychological and/or sexual harassment through emails, text messages, calls, voice messages, letters?
      • do they prevent you from spending your money or using your administrative documents (identity papers, healthcare cards, etc.) freely?
      • has the frequency of abuse increased recently? (verbal, physical, sexual or psychological abuse)

    They will also ask you if you have any evidence or witnesses. It is not mandatory to have these: the investigation may help find some.

    At the end of the “audition”, the police officer will suggest that you see a doctor in a specialised medical department called the “Unité médico-judiciaire (UMJ)”. Normally, the police officer will make an appointment for you with this doctor.

    Things to know:

    • It is very important to accept this, regardless of the abuse you have experienced, even if it has not left any physical trace. The doctor will provide you with a medical certificate that will be essential for the next steps.
    • If the police officer does not offer you an appointment with a doctor from the “Unité médico-judiciaire (UMJ)” department, it is important you ask for one before you leave.
  • At the end of the interview or “audition”, you will receive three important documents.

    1. A summary of your statement known as a “procès-verbal de plainte”.
      • Read it carefully (or ask for it to be read to you out loud) to check that the information is correct.
      • If you do not speak French, you can ask the interpreter who was present at the interview to read the document again for you.
      • Take your time, even if they try to rush you, and don’t be afraid to ask for corrections.
      • Only sign it when you believe it to be complete and correct.
    2. Proof that you filed a complaint, known as a “récépissé de dépôt”.
    3. A form to send to the court to request access to the investigation file known as the “Déclaration de constitution de partie civile (CPC)”. Things to know:
      • It is strongly recommended that you make this request, even if it is not mandatory, as it will allow you to be informed of how the procedure is going and have access to the file.
      • You can ask a lawyer to help you fill out the form and send it.
      • You may request this any time up to the day of the court ruling known as an “audience”, but it is recommended to do so as soon as possible.
  • Unfortunately, you will not automatically be informed of the actions that the police will take following your complaint.

    If they consider the facts to be serious, they may decide to summon the perpetrator of the abuse to question them. Depending on the gravity of the facts, they may be summoned:

    • to a free interview or “audition libre”, which means they can go home at any time
    • or, in the most serious cases, into “garde à vue” (detention). This means that they will be deprived of freedom and will have to remain at the police station for a defined period, usually between 24 and 48 hours.

    Note: you will not be automatically notified about when the “audition” will take place or the end of “garde à vue”. So it is important to take safety precautions if you are scared of any retaliation from the abuser.

    If you are still living with the perpetrator of the abuse and do not feel safe at home, you can ask the family court judge known as the “Juge aux affaires familiales” to expel the perpetrator of the abuse from your home, even if your home is in their name. This is done as part of a protection order or “ordonnance de protection”, and may take a week.

    In the meantime, you can ask the police to help you find emergency accommodation, or look for other solutions.

    You can also ask the police to come with you to pick up your belongings from your home.

  • During the appointment, the doctor’s role is to assess the physical and psychological consequences of the abuse on your health, even if it has not left any physical traces.

    It is essential to describe in detail the abuse you have experienced and the impact it has had on you. This can be very difficult, but it is essential to ensure you can exercise your rights later. Even if it’s hard, try not to minimise the impact it has had on your health.

    At the end of the appointment, the doctor will draw up a medical certificate specifying a number known as “Incapacité temporaire de travail (ITT)”. The purpose of this number is to assess the severity of the consequences of the abuse on your physical and mental health. This will be taken into account by the judge in the context of criminal proceedings.

    Before leaving, you can ask the doctor from the “UMJ”:

    • if they have sent the certificate to the “commissariat” or “gendarmerie
    • for a copy of the certificate. They are obliged to provide you with one.
  • The police will investigate and question the perpetrator of the abuse, who is referred to as the “mis en cause”.

    Depending on the seriousness of the facts, the accused may be summoned to the police station:

    • to a free interview or “audition libre”, which means they can go home at any time
    • or into “garde à vue” (detention), which means that they will be deprived of their freedom and will have to stay there for a defined period, generally between 24 and 48 hours.

    Note: you will not be automatically notified about when the “audition” will take place or the end of “garde à vue”. So it is important to take safety precautions if you are scared of any retaliation from the abuser.

    If the perpetrator of the abuse denies the facts, the police will offer you an appointment in their presence, known as a “confrontation”. It is strongly recommended that you attend, as your absence could unfortunately be held against you; for example, if the perpetrator of the abuse makes false accusations against you. If you need support, you can have a lawyer accompany you.

    Depending on the complexity of the case, the investigation will last from a few weeks to several months.

    If the facts are very serious, the “procureur de la République” may decide to have the perpetrator of the violence judged immediately after their detention or “garde à vue”. This is referred to as “comparution immédiate”.

    Unfortunately, you will not be automatically kept informed of the progress of the investigation.

    If you want to know how the case is progressing, you have two solutions:

    • Call the police station to ask how your case is progressing. The phone number can be found at the top right of the receipt of complaint or “récépissé de plainte”.
    • Write to the “procureur de la République” or ask your lawyer to do so if the investigation does not progress for several weeks. To find their contact details, you can use this directory by entering your postcode and selecting “tribunal judiciaire”.
  • Throughout the investigation, police services will send reports to the public prosecutor known as the “procureur de la République” in charge of the case. They may also keep you informed, but this unfortunately does not happen automatically.

    When the “procureur de la République” receives a final report, they will make a decision regarding the procedure. They may decide:

    • not to prosecute the perpetrator of the abuse by classifying the case as “sans suite, for example if they consider that there is insufficient evidence
    • propose an alternative  measure rather than a court judgement known as a “mesure alternative aux poursuites ”, for example:
      • an official interview known as “rappel à la loi” to remind them of the law and the risks involved in violating it
      • accountability training to prevent and combat abuse within relationships
      • compensation to be paid to you
    • ask a judge called a “juge d’instruction” to continue the investigation, for example by requesting psychiatric assessments or testimonies
    • send the case to court, which could result in a conviction.

    You will usually be informed of their decision by post at the address you provided when you filed your complaint. But sometimes this doesn’t happen.

    If you don’t hear anything after a few weeks, you can write to the “procureur de la République” to find out how the proceedings are progressing. To find their contact details, you can use this directory by entering your postcode and selecting “tribunal judiciaire”.

    If you do not agree with the decision of the “procureur de la République”, you can ask a judge to examine the case by lodging an appeal or “appel”. It is strongly recommended that you hire a lawyer to take these steps.

  • If the “procureur de la République” decides to have the suspect judged in court, a judge will examine the evidence and hear the various parties:

    • the person who filed the complaint, known as the “victime
    • the accused perpetrator of the abuse, known as the “mis en cause
    • any witnesses.

    You will receive a document called a “convocation” at the address you gave when you filed the complaint. This document will ask you to go to court to testify at a hearing or “audience”. It will specify the date, time and location.

    It is strongly recommended to hire a lawyer to accompany you to the hearing.

    Things to know:

    • You can ask for the audience to be held without the presence of the public, known as “à huis clos” (closed proceedings). The request is made through your lawyer. The judge will respond to your request before the trial begins.
    • If you have not already done so when making your complaint, it is recommended that you apply to become a civil party or “constituer partie civile (CPC)”. This makes it possible to be informed of the progress of the procedure and to have access to the case via your lawyer.
      • You can do this at any time until the judgement is made and up to 24 hours before the hearing by email, by sending the form and evidence of the abuse experienced.
      • You can also do this on the day of the hearing.
      • You can ask your lawyer for advice on how to do this.

    At the end of the trial, the judge will decide if the accused perpetrator is guilty or not, as well as on their sentence. They may decide to:

    • if they are found guilty, administer a sentence to the perpetrator of the abuse, for example: for you to be compensated, an interdiction to approach you, a prison sentence without imprisonment known as “prison avec sursis”, a prison sentence with imprisonment in a prison establishment known as a “prison ferme
    • allocate a sum of money to you known as interest and damages or “dommages et intérêts
    • declare the accused perpetrator as not guilty if it is difficult to prove their guilt.

    If you do not agree with the judge’s decision, you can ask another judge to examine the case by lodging an appeal or “appel” through your lawyer.

Frequent issues

  • If you are concerned that the police will refuse to file your complaint, you can present this letter to them.

    The police are not allowed to refuse to file a complaint. If this happens, you can:

    • go to another police station known as “commissariat de police” or “brigade de gendarmerie
    • or file your complaint by post.

    If a police officer refuses to file your complaint, the police officer is in violation of the law. You can report a violation of the law:

    • to the IGGN if the complaint was refused at a “brigade de gendarmerie
    • to the IGPN if the complaint was refused at a “commissariat de police
    • to the Defender of Rights or “Défenseur des Droits” by contacting a representative near you.
  • The police do not have the right to suggest a log or “main courante” for domestic abuse. The “main courante” is simply a means creating a declaration that abuse has occured, but no action will follow.

    You should also know that by refusing your complaint, the police officer was in violation with the law. You can report this violation of the law:

    • to the IGGN if the complaint was refused at a “brigade de gendarmerie
    • to the IGPN if the complaint was refused at a “commissariat de police
    • to the Defender of Rights or “Défenseur des Droits” by contacting a representative near you.

    Note: you have the right to ask to file a log or “main courante” if you wish to keep evidence of the abuse but you are not ready to prosecute the perpetrator of the abuse in court. However, in the case of domestic abuse, the police have to send the “main courante” to the “procureur de la République”. They may decide to carry out an investigation and possibly prosecute the perpetrator of the abuse if the facts are very serious.

  • It is unacceptable for you to be discriminated against while trying to seek protection from the French justice system, but unfortunately this still happens.

    There are solutions for reporting this discrimination and obtaining compensation for the harm it has caused you. Learn more

  • The “procureur de la République” should keep you informed of the progress of the investigation and their decision regarding the perpetrator of the abuse. Unfortunately, this sometimes does not happen.

    If you don’t hear anything after a few weeks, you can to write to the “procureur de la République” in charge of your case by following these steps:

    • Write a letter requesting an update to your file and keep a copy. You can use this model.
    • Attach to your letter a copy of the “procès-verbal de plainte” that you were given when you made your complaint to the police.
    • To find their address, you can use this directory by entering your postcode and selecting “tribunal judiciaire”.
    • Send the letter by “lettre recommandée avec accusé de réception”, which is the only way to have proof of receipt. Keep the receipt as proof of postage.
    • Send a copy of this letter to the “commissariat de police” or to the “brigade de gendarmerie” where you filed your initial complaint.

Common concerns

  • If you do not speak French, you can take this letter with you when you go to a police station. The letter reminds the police of their obligation to have an interpreter present when you file your complaint.

    In practice, this will depend on the availability of interpreters in your language. They may ask you to come back at another time.

    You have several other solutions:

    • report the abuse to the police online via a multilingual chat service and make an appointment to file a complaint, specifying your language and the fact that you need an interpreter
    • seek the help of an organisation offering free services known as an “association” to find an interpreter
    • come with someone you trust who will be able to translate for you.
  • Yes, if you have not exceeded a certain time limit. This is known as the “délai de prescription” provided for by law. The legal deadlines are:

    • 6 years to file a complaint for the majority of domestic abuse considered as “délits
    • 20 years to file a complaint in the event of rape which is considered a “crime”.
  • In France, the role of the police is to protect you if you are in danger. Police officers have an obligation to respect human rights without any discrimination, although this unfortunately still occurs.

    You have the right to be accompanied by a person of your choice when filing the complaint.

    If you are afraid, you can also file your complaint by post. Nevertheless, you will still be summoned by the police to answer their questions during a interview or “audition”.

  • If you are not able to go to a local “commissariat de police” or “brigade de gendarmerie”, you can also file your complaint by post.

    Nevertheless, you will still be summoned by the police to answer their questions during an interview or “audition”. You can mention your travel difficulties at that time.

  • A conviction for domestic abuse does not automatically result in imprisonment of the perpetrator of the abuse. The judge may also decide to:

    • sentence the perpetrator of the abuse to a prison sentence without imprisonment, known as a suspended sentence or “prison avec sursis
    • forbid them from approaching you
    • oblige them to attend training on domestic abuse.

    In any case, you are not responsible for any conviction, which will be decided by the judge.

    The perpetrator of the abuse is the only person responsible for their actions.

  • If possible, you can prepare before you file the complaint. You can gather evidence and write down the key facts and dates to have with you during the interview or “audition”.

    You can be accompanied by a lawyer or an organisation offering free services known as an “association” specialised in supporting people who have experienced abuse.

    When filing the complaint, try your best not to make any mistakes. For example, if you’re unsure of a date, don’t make it up. These small details could harm your case you if your partner or ex-partner can prove that they are false.

    Don’t worry if you forget information. You can add more information to your complaint by filing an addition to the complaint or “complément de plainte” in person or by post.

  • Filing a complaint and requesting protective measures is your right, whether or not you have valid residency rights.

    In France, the police are not allowed to detain you for not having valid residency rights, if you seek their assistance in the case of violence.

    If you are concerned that they may not respect your rights, you can present them with this letter as a reminder that they cannot detain you.

    If possible, tell someone close to you or an organisation offering free services known as an “association” specialised in the rights of foreign nationals that you are about to file a complaint. This will make you feel safer if the police officer does not comply with the law.

Find support

In France, there are many services that can support you, give you advice, and assist you with procedures and paperwork. Most of them are free of charge.

  • The role of the police is to ensure the safety of all people, whatever their situation, even for people without French residency rights. A police officer will be able to advise you and offer assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can contact the police in four main ways:

    • By telephone: call 17, a free number. Languages available: interpretation in all languages.
    • By text message: send an SMS to 114 in French, specifying your exact address.
    • Online: chat service. This service is available in many languages.
    • Go to any police station, i.e. either a “commissariat de police” or a “brigade de gendarmerie”. You can find the closest police station to you on this website. If you don't speak French, they will need to find you an interpreter, this can take some time.
  • The “Centres d'Information sur les Droits des Femmes et des Familles (CIDFF)” helps the general public, especially women, in many areas such as: legal rights, health, employment searches, training, business creation, and even childcare.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • They will be able to inform you of your rights and the steps to take. Some centres can assist you with procedures and paperwork.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • Contact: you will find the contact details of the “CIDFF” in your area in this directory.
  • Associations” are organisations that offer a range of services.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • The services offered vary considerably from one “association” to another. They can give you advice and sometimes they can assist you with procedures and paperwork.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • You will find a list of “associations” specialising in helping victims of violence near you in this directory by selecting your French department.

While the utmost care has gone into providing you with the most accurate and up to date information, this page is not intended to replace legal or professional advice. Laws and procedures change regularly so it is important to consult qualified professionals.

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