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Tunisia: Bassma Betka, a lawyer defending victims of violence

In 2011, Bassma Betka joined one of the first law firms specializing in violence against women in France, at the time BT & Associés. A firm known for handling some of the most significant domestic violence cases in France. For over 13 years, the Franco Tunisian, who works as a lawyer, has been assisting victims of domestic violence in their legal proceedings within Tomasini Avocats.

After accompanying many victims of domestic violence over a decade, Bassma now views her work much more as a commitment. “Every day, I tell myself that I am not just working, I am helping people ». From an early age, she was driven by a concern for justice. At school, she still remembers, she used to defend her friends; at home, she was the one protecting the other members of her family. And very quickly, she realized what she wanted to do in the future, namely becoming a lawyer. After her high school degree, she enrolled in the Cergy Faculty of Law. But after the first year, she was disillusioned. Theory alone bored her. At the age of 19, she decided to work with a lawyer to discover the practical side of law. For five years, she worked as a legal assistant in a law firm, then as a lawyer in another firm… Simultaneously, she obtained her law clerk’s diploma, passed a master’s degree in social law and then earned a master’s degree in criminal law and legal sciences. One day, wishing to reinvent herself, she contacted the lawyer who offered her her first job. She told her that she was setting up a law firm with another attorney specialising in violence against women. The young woman was immediately attracted by the idea. Without hesitation, she joined the law firm, one of the first in France to specialise in domestic and intra-family violence.

 In contact with victims of different forms of violence

In 13 years, she has followed various cases related to physical and psychological domestic violence, cases of young women victims of aggression by their partners, extreme cases such as assassination attempts, murders of victims of violence, murders of the perpetrators by the victims… But also, several cases of mothers who were dispossed of their child custody by the justice system. “I find myself with several mothers who tell me that they can no longer see their child, because he/she has been given custody to the father since they have denounced violence and sexual touching on his part. Given that in court, the child’s word is not taken seriously enough, especially when it comes to young children, it turns against them,” she explains. Because of her North African origins, she has also taken charge of several cases of North African women, some of whom having barely arrived in France and who are victims of violence from their spouses. She remembers the case of a young Algerian Kabyle woman, who joined her husband in France a few years ago and who was victim some time later of violence, but also of kidnapping and blackmail on his part. “She was only allowed to call her family when he was next to her,”she says. In addition, “she only dressed when he decided. He forced her to walk around the house naked, filmed her and threatened to send her videos to her family members to tell them that she was prostituting herself in France, if she did not do what he told her “, she explains. A situation that unfortunately led the woman to a psychiatric center. But among all these cases of violence, she points out, “we also have men as clients, but they are a minority. Some men are abused, but generally they are ashamed to say they are abused by their wives.”

Accompany victims during legal proceedings

Within the firm, she has long been responsible for the first contact with victims, and now she accompanies them throughout their cases, she explains. “We accompany the victim ; we assist her/him. It’s a bit like taking someone by the hand and walking with him/her through the whole process. » The first step in this process is to listen to the person “who is deeply hurt and whose life is destroyed”. This allows to collect all the details of the case, namely finding out if a complaint has been filed, if there are any witnesses to the violence…, she explains. Then, they set up a strategy for the case to re-establish the truth, work on the case legally, draft the acts, intervene in the courts… Above all, there is also a psychological work to be done with the victim, she explains. “Most of the spouses of these women are manipulators, perverts who victimise themselves. When you see them, you can’t imagine for a second that they raped their wives. In court, they express themselves clearly. On the other hand, these women, they no longer control themselves psychologically. They are emotional, become agitated and have difficulty expressing themselves,” she explains.

On average, it takes at least two years or more for the case to be resolved, she says. A process which also affects psychologically the lawyer or the person accompanying them, particularly because of her/his involvement and total investment in defending the victim. “It must be said that these vulnerable people see us as the angel who comes to their rescue. For the daily slightest gesture, they contact us to know what to do. So we have to remain professional and at the same time, be human. When you get out of there, at the end of the day, you are empty. You don’t want to hear about any more problems. Psychologically, it’s heavy,” she says. But, after all this work, it is comforting to see victims finally regain their rights, she stresses. “When I see women who were in distress, thanking me for getting them out of the situation they were in, at least at my level, it is for me a real victory”.

Defending the environment as victims of violence

Committed to defending victims, particularly women, she also specialized in environmental law through a Master’s degree in business law with a specialisation in the environment, at Paris Saclay University, in order to be able to “defend nature”. “For me, nature is a victim, just like women. It suffers from the destruction of the environment, global warming…”,she explains. Today, its ambition is to materialize this commitment to defend the environment. Likewise, she intends to pass her law degree this year to be able to defend victims in court, because today, she can only work on files, accompany her clients before various services (police station, social services, etc.) , but not plead for them in court. “Today, I entrust this part to my fellow lawyers, in whom I have complete confidence, but I would like to carry the voice of these women to the end,” she confides. She is also writing a book that bears witness to the first calls of the victims she had to take care of for many years and which she plans to publish soon.