Interview with Gwenola Joly-Coz – The Recognition of Coercive Control in Domestic Violence Matters

20 June 2024

Gwenola Joly-Coz is a senior French magistrate who is actively committed to women's causes. In 2014, she founded the association "Femmes de Justice" to promote gender diversity and equality within the Ministry of Justice. She also served as the chief of staff for the Secretary of State for Women's Rights from 2014 to 2016. After holding the position of President of the Judicial Court of Pontoise, she was appointed First President of the Court of Appeal of Poitiers in 2020. Her book "Femmes de Justice," published in 2023 (Enrick B. Editions), highlights the journeys of pioneering women who have transformed the face of justice.


  • In your opinion, how can enriching the French language to better understand criminological concepts facilitate a better grasp of crimes committed against women for sexist and sexual reasons?

The invention of new concepts and the creation of new words have been decisive in recent years; everything has changed thanks to semantics. The oldest example remains the creation of the term “emprise,” popularized by psychiatrist Marie-France Hirigoyen. The second term that comes to mind is “féminicide.” When it emerged in France in 2019, it changed everything. From the moment the word was introduced, even though we did not need it legally, it brought social, ethical, and public understanding. I was the first magistrate in France to use the term “féminicide” in a solemn context during my opening speech in September 2019. At the time, my colleagues remarked that I should not use a non-legal term. But using this term is essential! It has a mobilizing force that the expression “assassination by a partner” does not have. Thus, words are important, but so are concepts. The creation of a whole series of new concepts and knowledge developed by academics and researchers over the past decade has changed how judges must now approach these issues. I can cite a few that seem most important to me: psycho-trauma, dissociative memory, overkill, and coercive control. In the document we wrote with Mr. Attorney General Éric Corbeaux for the National School of the Judiciary, all these major concepts are explained one by one, showing how useful they are for judges even though they are not legal terms.

  • The Court of Appeal of Poitiers rendered five rulings on January 31, 2024, judging perpetrators of domestic violence through the lens of coercive control, under your initiative. Can you elaborate on the concept of “coercive control”?

These five rulings were issued on the same day by a collegiate court that included the First President. I wrote these decisions and personally presided over the hearing, which is exceptional since First Presidents rarely preside over hearings. Attorney General Mr. Éric Corbeaux himself represented the Public Prosecutor’s Office, making it a highly symbolic and judicially significant moment. I decided to preside over this hearing in an exceptional manner, using unconventional methods. For instance, instead of reading out the evidence, I projected it behind me. This included screenshots and text messages sent by the perpetrator to the victim, such as: “I love you, I love you, I love you, I’m going to kill you,” “I love you, I love you, you are the woman of my life, I’m going to break your teeth,” “I love you, I love you, bitch.” The semantic incoherence is clear: mixing love and death is impossible. This was a very interesting, somewhat exemplary hearing, truly a specialized hearing.

As for the rulings on January 31, 2024, they aim to showcase, through these five decisions, the full repertoire of coercive control. It’s important to see everything that can happen under coercive control: recording women at home to prevent them from leaving, placing a tracker in the car without their knowledge to monitor their movements, inspecting their underwear in the evening, and preventing them from eating. These historical rulings highlight how, at the beginning of the 21st century, there are magistrates in France capable of using these concepts to judge better. The key verb in this approach is “contextualize”: I took these criminal offenses and contextualized them within a psychosocial concept, that of coercive control. The men were prosecuted for criminal offenses like death threats or harassment. I decided to judge these offenses by recontextualizing them within coercive control.

Coercive control is not the same as emprise (control). Coercive control focuses on the perpetrator, while emprise focuses on the victim. Emprise means the victim is in a particular psychological state. It is more of a psychological concept, which is complicated for us as magistrates to use. The term emprise implicates the victim: “Why didn’t you leave?” “Why does she stay?” It holds the victim accountable. My book “Elle l’a bien cherché” explains this situation precisely. Coercive control, on the other hand, focuses on the perpetrator’s actions. It shifts the question from “Why didn’t she leave?” to “What did he do to prevent her from leaving?” In my criminal procedure, I only need to show that the perpetrator committed a series of actions demonstrating his desire for control, surveillance, and domination. The rulings contain a paragraph of reasoning that is always the same, adapted to five different cases. Coercive control is thus a set of tactics revealing the perpetrator’s strategy. This strategy leads to the psychological exhaustion and moral decline of the woman, sometimes presenting her as a “bad victim.”

  • Today, domestic violence has profound repercussions not only on the victims but also on society as a whole. What concrete strategies and actions do you recommend to establish a justice system connected with civil society, thus attentive to the needs of litigants?

I believe these rulings are a prime example of that. This is what the justice system of a great democratic country, attuned to the people who demand attention, can achieve. Justice in France today, which is not blind to the needs of victims but listens and understands, exemplifies this. I previously described this kind of justice in an article in Le Monde on November 25, 2019, following the Adèle Haenel case. Haenel notably declared that she would no longer turn to France’s justice system because it did not listen and perpetuated new structural violence. However, it is not just this form of justice! It is a justice system in motion, evolving, and striving to adapt. A phrase from the États Généraux de la Justice report titled “Rendering Justice to Citizens” seems emblematic to me: “Justice must now listen to the people, be connected, and even allied with them.” This statement is powerful; we must listen to the people, especially women.

  • Beyond these specific initiatives aimed at convicting criminals in cases of domestic violence, do you think it would be pertinent to include training and awareness programs for justice, police, and healthcare professionals to effectively support victims of domestic violence?

Certainly, it is a fundamental issue in the training of magistrates. It is such a fundamental issue that Nathalie Roret, the director of the École Nationale de la Magistrature, has taken it upon herself to create a cycle called CAVIF (Cycle of Deepening in the Fight against Intrafamily Violence). This cycle was inaugurated on March 4 and 5, 2024, with opening days led by Attorney General Éric Corbeaux and myself. The cycle was established with the idea of providing high-level training to French magistrates on these concepts so that they have the capacity to identify the cases brought before them. So yes, training is crucial, and we are already addressing it!

  • Livret de formation sur la thématique des violences faites aux femmes PDF - 2 MB

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