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What to do if you're the victim of a crime in France

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What to do if you're the victim of a crime in France
Do you know what to do if you're the victim of crime in France? Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP
13:53 CEST+02:00
While France is hardly a dangerous place to live or travel, as in every country, crime happens. Here's what to do if it happens to you.

Help! I've been mugged/burgled/scammed/attacked. What should I do first?

Being the victim of a crime can be distressing, frightening and infuriating all at once, especially if you're somewhere unfamiliar and you're not sure who to turn to.

Your first priority should be your safety. Is the situation dangerous? Call the police emergency line on 17. Do you need medical treatment? Have someone call the SAMU (dial 15) for emergencies or the fire service (pompiers) (dial 18) for first aid and to be taken to hospital emergency ward. Alternatively, call the Europe-wide emergency line on 112.

READ ALSO: What to do if you have a medical emergency in France

If you're uninjured take some deep breaths while you think through what you want to do next.

Who can I ask for advice?

Your embassy or consulate can give you information and practical assistance, including explaining the French justice process, helping you find an interpreter or English-speaking lawyer or doctor, assisting with travel arrangements and contacting people at home.

Some embassies provide additional help for victims of rape and sexual assault, such as having someone accompany you to the police station, arranging a medical examination, advising on access to abortion or sexual health treatment, and helping you get counselling.

France also has a national victims' support organization, France Victimes, for anyone who has suffered a crime of any kind. Call its helpline (0141 834 208) to receive confidential advice about your rights and to be put in touch with specialist support services in your area.

See here for a list of other nationwide support networks.

Should I report it?

Yes, and not just if you want the police to look for who committed the crime.

There are also several very good practical reasons to do so: firstly, your insurance company won't pay out without a police report. You may also be entitled to separate compensation for damage to your person or property, which you can only claim if you report the crime.

What's more, if your car is stolen and you don't report it to police, you risk being held responsible for any crimes or accidents committed with the vehicle. And it may make it easier to replace stolen documents like an ID card or passport if you can prove you were the victim of a theft.

It's obviously your choice, but based on (limited) personal experience, reporting a crime in France as a foreigner isn't always as complicated as you might fear.

A couple of hours waiting in the Paris police station to get a report for a stolen bike was worth it for The Local France's editor Ben McPartland, whose insurance company then reimbursed around three quarters of the cost of the bike.

How do I report it?

The simplest way to file a complaint (porter plainte) is to go to the nearest police (commissariat) or gendarme station, which are usually open 24/7. (Find yours here.) While you can just turn up, it might be useful to call ahead to check what you need to bring or arrange for officers to pick you up.

Victims of a theft or scam can also file a “pre-report” (pré-plainte) online (follow the link here), after which the police will give you an appointment to come to the station in person and complete the process.

Before you go try to collect everything you can use as evidence, including the names and addresses of any witnesses, doctors' notes, bills for repairs, etc. If your property has been stolen, try to come up with an itemized list of everything that's missing, since the police report will form the basis of your insurance claim. (If you forget something you can add it to the report later, but it will require another trip to the police station.) If possible include the serial numbers of any electronic items.

And if you have any pictures of the stolen property then all the better.

Take everything all to the station with you, along with official ID with you, if possible. The officer who takes your statement will ask you to confirm your identity, what happened and the damages or losses incurred, then write up your account into a first-person statement (procès verbale) that you are required to check and sign. They'll also ask for your contact details.

Once you're done, you'll be given a récépissé: a record of your complaint and proof that police received it. It should also contain a reference number that you can use to follow up your case in future. In addition, you can request a written copy of your statement if you wish.

What if I don't speak French?

Your complaint must be submitted in French, but you have several options to get around the language barrier.

If you don't speak the language, you are entitled to an interpreter free of charge: ask the police station to provide one for you. Or if you prefer, you can bring a trusted Francophone to help you.

Bigger cities often have English-speaking police officers on duty, especially around tourist hotspots. In Paris, look out for flags on their badges that indicate which languages they speak.

Police stations in Paris are also equipped with an automatized translation system (SAVE, Système d'Accueil des Victimes Etrangères) that allows officers to take your statement in any of 20 languages. You can also request a copy of it in your own language, which can come in especially handy if your insurance company isn't French.

Can someone else report it for me? What if I'm no longer in France?

Any witness can report a crime, but police won't register that you're the victim unless you tell them so yourself.

The exception is a crime against a minor: if the victim is under 18, their parents or guardians may report a offence against them with or without their involvement.

If you can't report the crime in person, you can also do so by post. You'll need to write a detailed letter, in French, containing all the same information as a police statement, and concluding with the sentence: “Je dépose plainte contre X” if the perpetrator is unknown, or “contre [name]” if you know their identity.

Address the letter directly to the prosecutor's office (procureur de la République du tribunal de grande instance) either in the area where the crime was committed or in the area where the offender lives, if you know who he or she is. It's advisable, but not mandatory, to send it by recorded delivery.

How long do I have to report it?

You don't have to do it right away. For misdemeanours like disturbance of the peace or minor damage to your property, you have up to one year from the time the crime was committed to report it to police.

For offences such as theft, fraud or sexual harassment, you have six years, and for serious crimes like rape or armed robbery you have 20 years, or even longer if they're committed against someone under 18.

In most cases, though, it's easiest to collect evidence as soon as possible after the fact.

Ok, I've filed the police report. What happens next?

Once they've received your complaint, the police will begin their investigation. They might ask you to help them gather evidence, for instance by allowing them to inspect the crime scene, dust your property for fingerprints or have a medical expert examine you.

What happens next depends on what police find: a prosecutor (procureur) reviews their investigation and decides whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed against a suspect. If not, they might dismiss the case; or they might forward the case to an examining magistrate (juge d'instruction) who will investigate it further and can either close the case for lack of evidence or refer it to court for prosecution.

Police should let you know about any major developments in the investigation, but you can check up on their progress by contacting the police station where you filed the complaint or the prosecutor's office in charge of the case and citing your reference number. A victim support association can also help you get information on your case.

Click here for more information on your rights during the investigation of a crime against you, and if the perpetrator is identified and charged, your rights during the trial

What if I don't have insurance?

Are you sure that you don't? In France it's compulsory to take out home insurance if you're renting or have a mortgage, and many policies will cover the contents of your house as well the property itself. So check first before you write off your stolen bike and decide not to report it.

Many French bank accounts include insurance against the loss or theft of your cards or cheque book, and some cover the cost of replacing your ID documents and keys – they'll even pay compensation if thieves use your keys to get inside your home.

If you're just travelling in France, it's also worth checking what your bank, credit card issuer or home insurer covers: certain elements of travel insurance are sometimes included in their policies.

Even if you really aren't insured, you could be entitled to compensation from the perpetrator or the French victims' aid fund.

 

Am I entitled to compensation?

If you were in France legally at the time of the offence – either as a tourist or a resident – then yes, you have a right to claim compensation.

Damages are usually sought directly from the perpetrator, if he or she is identified. However, the French state also maintains a fund to compensate victims of crime, the Fonds de Garantie, which pays out first and seeks to recover the money from the offender later.

In theory the fund covers both serious and minor crimes, but in practice, according to the US Embassy in France, it “offers very little remuneration in cases other than those involving wrongful death, serious personal injury (causing loss of at least one month of activity or continuous after-effects), or sexual violence”.

To make a claim, you'll need to declare yourself a partie civile (civil claimant) in your case, which you can do at the same time you report the crime to police (ask to file a “plainte avec constitution de partie civile”) or at any later stage in the proceedings, by writing to the prosecutor, appearing in court or having a lawyer do it for you.

Then you'll be able to submit a claim in writing to the nearest Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Crime (CIVI, Commission d'indemnisation des victimes d'infractions). See the US Embassy's website for a detailed description of the process.

For UK residents: the government has an EU Compensation Assistance Team that can help you seek damages for a crime committed against you in France or any other EU country. See here for contact details. 

Do I need a lawyer?

As a victim you're not obliged to hire a lawyer, but you might decide it's worth doing – especially if you're not confident in French and/or won't be staying in France throughout the legal proceedings. Ask your embassy for a list of local lawyers who speak your language.

You may be able to get some help with the fees, either by including them in a claim for compensation or by seeking legal aid (aide juridictionnelle). Legal aid is available to foreigners living legally in France and can cover part or all of your legal costs, depending on your means.

Lawyer or no, you can seek free legal advice from your nearest Maison de Justice et du Droit, public information centres run by the Ministry of Justice. Find your nearest one here.

What else do I have to think about? 

Even aside from dealing with the police, being the victim of a crime almost always involves a load of administrative chores. Depending on your circumstances, there'll be the bank cards to cancel, the locks to replace, the mobile phone to block, the passwords to change, the documents to replace… Ask police or your embassy for advice if you're worried you might have forgotten something.

You might also decide to take steps to try and prevent a repeat, such as joining your local Voisins Vigilants et Solidaires, the French equivalent of Neighbourhood Watch.

Most important of all, though, is your own wellbeing. Being the victim of a crime can be deeply traumatic: as well as seeking any physical treatment you may need, consider talking to someone about what you've gone through. Your embassy can put you in touch with support services in France or in your home country, while France Victimes' trained operators will listen to whatever you want to talk about, confidentially and anonymously. 

Useful numbers and websites

17: police emergency line.
15: SAMU medical emergency service.
18: firefighter rescue service.
112: Europe-wide emergency number, where you should be able to talk to an English-speaking operator.
+33 141 83 42 08: France Victimes, a victim support service available every day from 9 am to 9 pm. You can also email them anytime at <08victimes@france-victimes.fr>.

The European Commission website contains detailed information in English about the criminal justice process and victims' rights in France: click here.

For tourists: the city of Paris has produced a pamphlet for how to avoid being the victim of common crimes. Find it here

 

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Excepting ROMA crimes - 24 May 2018 16:05
The police are afraid of Roma. They will not pursue crimes committed by their community members.
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