Health/Society. In the face of obstetric and gynecological violence, “total impunity for doctors”

Two rape complaints have been filed against Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, Secretary of State for Development, who allegedly imposed gestures on patients while working as a gynaecologist. These accusations revealed on Wednesday by the weekly Marianne bring obstetric and gynecological violence back to the fore.

Relatively unknown to the general public, however, they concern many women, denounces the group “Stop Obstetric and Gynecological Violence”, which claims to receive about 200 testimonies each month.

“It is about not respecting the rights of patients in gynecology or obstetrics. It is the bad medical practices that lead to complications”, emphasizes Sonia Bisch, spokesperson and founder of the collective. “It can be pressure, words, discrimination, sexism, medical acts or live caesarean sections, contempt for women’s pain, especially in cases of endometriosis or during childbirth. And it goes as far as rape, which the law defines as penetration without consent, in any way, even with an object, ”she lists.

According to a 2018 report by the High Council for Equality, this violence is widespread in France.

Several cases, such as the dozens of complaints filed against Professor Émile Daraï from the Tenon hospital, have helped raise awareness of the reality of this violence. “The change is the media coverage, from the moment you can name things. The victims realize that their experience has a name, that they are not alone,” explains Mounia El Kotni, an anthropologist specializing in health discrimination and obstetric violence.

“It is not because they have studied for ten years that they are not abusive”

However, this violence remains taboo and under-reported in France despite being “systemic”, believes Mounia El Kotni.

Sonia Bisch judges that this is especially related to the fact that in France “we are extremely trained and educated to submit to doctors.” “We need to be treated, so people are vulnerable. As long as we keep the rights, even when we are in a gynecology office and in a delivery room. We are not sufficiently informed about it, ”she warns.

“The taboo of this subject also comes into play, the taboo of women’s sex, menstruation, menstruation… Mounia El Kotni enumerates. On a social level, many things make this discourse difficult to bring to light. »

Various complaints against Secretary of State Chrysoula Zacharopoulou

An investigation was opened following the filing of two rape complaints against Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, the Secretary of State for Development, whom the patients accuse of the actions she allegedly imposed on them when she worked as a gynaecologist.

The first complaint denouncing acts of rape was filed on May 25 and the investigation was opened two days later, before a second complaint dated June 16 for acts of the same nature, the Paris prosecutor’s office reported Wednesday.

A third woman, Jade (first name changed), now 26 and a resident of the Paris region, told AFP on Wednesday that she had consulted Ms Zacharopoulou for endometriosis problems, including this 46-year-old French-Greek gynecologist. years. her specialty Her appointment, arranged with Mrs. Zacharopoulou because of her fame and specifically because she is a woman, took place at the end of 2016 in the presence of a doctor in training.

According to Jade’s account, the gynecologist “forced her intern to examine me.” When the patient’s feet were in the stirrups, the medical specialist “felt that I was not comfortable at all, he was not comfortable either, my body was closed, blocked, he felt it,” she described. “Then it was his turn. He told me, using familiar terms: + You’re going to have to open. I, I’m not him + She was trying, she was trying, she was not happy at all and I was very nervous, tense and trapped, ”she said. The young woman said that she did not remember if the gynecologist had obtained her consent before examining her, as a growing number of doctors do today.

Doctors are far from being exempt from responsibility, according to feminist associations that fight against this type of violence. “In general, we don’t listen to women, their pain. We despise her. It is seen when women who are victims of endometriosis take 7 to 10 years to have a diagnosis”, says Sonia Bisch. “We have an extremely idyllic image of doctors. But it is not because they have completed ten years of study that they are not abusive, ”she points out.

Education, justice and prevention as solutions

If discourse on the subject begins to be released, “there is everything to build,” says Sonia Bisch. The latter highlights in particular the need to better educate physicians. “The training of health professionals is extremely violent, the students suffer sexist and sexual violence, especially during their internships. And many doctors are then in the reproduction of this violence, ”she points out. “Doctors are not trained in empathy and communication,” agrees Mounia El Kotni, who also sees this as a reason for the ill-treatment they manifest once in practice.

The question of justice is also central, according to the anthropologist: “The aggressors should really be punished. Abusive doctors will not be treated well overnight and they need to realize that the law is not on their side.” But when the victims speak out, the doctors involved are not necessarily condemned.

In gynecology and obstetrics we have a real problem of total impunity for doctors (…) The government tells people to file a complaint, but many are fired. We should already believe the victims, fire the affected professionals.

sonia bisch

Education in gynecology and obstetrics from middle and high school, as well as the fight against medical deserts are, according to Mounia El Kotni, other ways to explore to fight against violence.

In the eyes of the associations, the government must also assume its responsibilities on the issue. “Today, the level of awareness in the face of this violence is increasing. But it is thanks to all the militant work, not to the Government, which does nothing”, denounces Sonia Bisch. “You should do a big public information campaign about gynecological and obstetric violence because nothing exists. »

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