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Filing a complaint (5/8)



There are 2 ways to file a complaint

You can file a complaint with the police or with the sheriff's office

  • Try to go with someone. You will be interviewed by a police officer (officier de police judiciaire-OPJ).
  • The OPJ registers your complaint and writes up a statement (procès-verbal) of your declarations that you will have to sign. Rape and sexual aggression are crimes or serious misdemeanors, they are not considered a simple "incident report" (main courante) in the police registry.
  • Despite the concern of putting the victims at ease, the main role of the police and the sheriffs is to gather, by means of questioning, all necessary elements enabling the establishment of facts that will help find the attacker.
  • The OPJ is responsible to confirm all the elements that prove the attack and the details which prove the constraint suffered by the victim, to verify the veracity of her words, and to collect all the details she can give about her attacker. The OPJ cannot refuse to accept your complaint.
  • This explains the lengthy duration of this first step: hours and sometimes a full day. For you, these steps are trying. Ask to be interviewed in a quiet place and if you want, by a woman or in the presence of a woman if possible.
  • Give all the details of what you were subjected to: the attacker's premeditated trap, his threats, the force, the paralyzing fear, the rape, the abuse, the accompanying insulting words, and all the circumstances that you noticed about the location, the time, the attacker's face, his words, his gestures, his car … possible witnesses.
  • On the other hand, you can refuse to answer questions concerning your private life, if they have nothing to do with the facts, such as: "Do you have lovers?" or "When was the last time you had sexual relations?" Writing your statement with a description of the attacker before meeting with the OPJ can be helpful.
  • Re-read the statement drafted by the inspector attentively before signing it and refuse to sign a document which doesn't describe the aggression exactly as you explained it with your own words. Don't hesitate to make additions if necessary.
  • In certain cities, the police or the sheriff's office will drive you to a hospital equipped with an emergency medical-judiciary service where you will be welcomed, examined, treated, and counseled - all for free.
  • The police and the sheriff's office are responsible for transmitting your complaint to the State Prosecutor's office.


© Yves Lambert 

You can file a complaint by writing a letter directly to the State Prosecutor's office (Procureur de la République)

  • You need to send a registered letter (lettre recommandée avec accusé de reception), dated and signed, addressed to the Tribunal de Grande Instance of your department, specifying: - your address and your civil status
    - a detailed account of the facts (date, place, circumstances of the)
    - the description of the aggressor … and enclose the medical certificate et all the elements of proof.
  • You can be helped by an attorney to write this letter. There exists free legal assistance in certain town halls and in victim aid organizations

Sample letter to the State Prosecutor:

Dear Sir,
I would like to advise you that on
(date) at (time) at (place), I was the victim of the following acts: (explain the facts).
As a result, I would like to file a complaint against Mr. _____
(if the perpetrator is known to you, indicate his full name and address) or against X (if the perpetrator is unidentified).
Thanks you for taking the necessary measures in this situation. I hope to hear from you soon.

In French:
Monsieur le Procureur de la République,
J'ai l'honneur de vous exposer que le
(date et heure) à (lieu), j'ai été victime des faits suivants : (exposer les faits).
Aussi, je dépose plainte contre M. _____
(si l'auteur est connu de vous, indiquer son nom et son adresse) ou contre X (si l'auteur n'est pas identifié).
Je vous prie de croire, Monsieur le Procureur de la République, à l'expression de ma considération distinguée.

Don't forget to sign your letter and to enclose your medical certificate, handwritten witness attestations if you have any with the photocopy of their identity card.

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What you need to know when you file a complaint

In our law, all persons accused of a crime are presumed innocent until the moment of judgment, and have the right to a defense. The rapist will be referred to as the defendant, suspect, or accused. He will always be accompanied by his attorney.

By filing a complaint, you inform the legal system and you set in motion a procedure in which you have the role of a witness.

To participate completely in the procedure with the same rights as the person accused and not only as a witness, you must also file a civil complaint.

Filing a civil complaint

Security measures

  • By filing a civil complaint (civil action), you are no longer a simple witness in the eyes of the law but a victim who is asking for damages to repair the prejudice suffered: corporal prejudice (medical expenses), moral prejudice of the consequences of the rape in your daily life, material prejudice (loss of salary). You can request reimbursement of your attorney fees and other expenses caused by the proceedings (art. 371.1 and 475.1 of the Procedural Penal Code).
  • Filing a civil complaint enables you to get an attorney who will have access to the case file, file which prepares the trial. This way, you will know the elements that the attacker will use in his defense.
  • You can file a civil complaint at any moment of the proceedings by sending a registered letter (lettre recommandée accusée de réception) to the Doyen of the trial judges or the judge handling your case at least 24 hours before the hearing or by personally going to the hearing.
  • If you don't get an attorney, the amount of damages cannot exceed 4.500  . A rape prevention association can file a civil complaint on your behalf.
  • Rape proceedings usually last about two years. It is essential that you be accompanied and supported at every stage by someone trustworthy.

As a measure of security, especially if you have received threats, it is important to keep your address secret. Immediately ask the police or the sheriff's office not to give your name or address to and especially that the aggressor cannot get a hold of it through his attorney. Have your mail sent to you care of someone you trust or to your attorney as soon as you file a civil complaint. You can contact:

  • victim's aid offices or associations (you can find them in each courthouse)
  • rape prevention associations
  • SOS Viols hotline

The Victim's Indemnification Commission:

  • can advance money for the prejudice suffered, even before the trial begins
  • can compensate the victim when the aggressor is not found or when he is financially insolvent, no matter the outcome of the trial but on the condition that you have filed a complaint.
  • you must contact the commission in the three years following the infraction, period extended until one year after the decision of the jurisdiction which decides definitively.

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A trial is expensive

Foreseeable expenses

Legal aid

  •  If you filed a civil complaint, plan for :
    • a deposit which will be left with the court clerk. The amount is decided by the Doyen of the trial judges. It is approximately between 1.000 and 2.000  . There is no deposit if you file the civil complaint once the trial has begun.
    • attorney fees which are determined between the client and the attorney: a consultation costs about 100 to 150  ; a trial in district court costs between 3.000 and 6.000   (These amounts are only an estimate. The final cost might be more or less); a retainer is requested.
  •  You can ask to pay in installments
  •  The file costs are paid by the intermediary of the attorney. Expert costs are advanced by the Treasury and recovered from the convicted person.


  •  If your resources are insufficient, this obstacle is not insurmountable.
  •  Legal aid can be requested. It can be granted to French people and foreigners living legally in France.
  •  You will find the forms to complete at the town hall (mairie) or at the reception desk of the courthouse of your department or you may download them from the internet.
  •  Your request will be approved for either partial or total coverage of the costs, depending on your financial situation.
  •  Article 3 of the law No.91-647 dated July 10, 1991 provides "legal aid can be granted to people who do not fulfill the conditions fixed at the beginning of the preceding paragraph when their situation appears particularly worthy of interest with regards to the object of the litigation or the predictable charges of the trial."
  •  This aid can be granted even once the trial has started.
  •  You will be given a court-appointed attorney from your department, unless the attorney you choose accepts to be paid by legal aid.

And if you're not ready to file a complaint …

Your decision today may not be definitive. But the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to find your attacker. Additionally, you expose yourself to questioning by the police or the sheriff's office or the judges as to why you waited for so long before filing a complaint. Establishing proof becomes increasingly difficult.

That is why you should write down or record a complete description, with as much detail as possible of everything you remember (location, words heard, sounds, acts, …), if you don't feel ready immediately to start such a difficult process. This could be of priceless help if you decide to bring suit several days or several years after the aggression.

Someone, perhaps in your close circle, will know how to help you. You often have to look outside your close circle of family and friends for someone who will believe you, who will know that when a woman says "no," it means no, and that she didn't provoke or consent to the situation but that the fear, surprise, or threats were too strong.

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