A French woman who was raped, beaten and prostituted by her stepfather for more than two decades has gone on trial for his murder after she shot him dead in 2016.
Valerie Bacot, now aged 40, says she was first attacked by Daniel Polette aged just 12 when he was dating her alcoholic mother – the start of 25 years of horror that saw her forced to marry him and bear four of his children.
During that time Bacot said Polette routinely beat her, attacked her with a hammer, threatened her with a gun, and forced her to sleep with truck drivers near their home in central France while he directed her actions over an earpiece.
But on March 13, 2016, Bacot shot Polette in the back of the head with his own gun after she claims he threatened to prostitute their 14-year-old daughter as well.
Bacot, who has written a book about her experience called Everybody Knew, went before a court in Chalon-sur-Saone, Burgundy, on Monday accused of Polette’s murder in a case that has caused outcry in France.
Valerie Bacot (pictured in the tan scarf) has gone on trial for the 2016 murder of Daniel Polette in France after what she says was 25 years of abuse suffered at his hands
Bacot, now aged 40, says Polette began abusing her aged 12 when he was her stepfather – but later forced her into marriage and had four children with her
In the book, Bacot says she was abused from a young age – first by her older brother when she was aged five and then by Polette, who was initially her mother’s partner.
Speaking to La Parisien ahead of the trial, Bacot said the abuse began ‘very quickly’ after her mother brought truck-driver Polette home when she was aged 12.
He initially played the doting stepfather but then began sexually abusing her – abuse which lasted for two years before she alerted police and Polette was arrested.
In 1996 he was jailed for four years for sexual abuse, but Bacot said her mother never cut off contact and would even take her to visit him in jail.
After two and a half years, Polette was released and immediately returned to the family home where the abuse resumed.
Bacot said she often thought about running away during those years, but had nowhere to go – her grandparents would simply return her home, she believed, and her biological father wanted nothing to do with her.
So she stayed.
Then, in 1997 and at the age of 17, Bacot fell pregnant with Polette’s child. The family quickly fell apart.
Bacot says her mother kicked her out of the house, forcing her to go and live with Polette because she did not know where else to go.
The pair ended up married, and Bacot said Polette began physically and mentally abusing her shortly after their first child – a boy – was born.
‘The first time it was because he thought I hadn’t put the baby’s toys away properly,’ she said. ‘But very quickly it became commonplace.
‘If the coffee took too long to arrive, if it was too hot or too cold, he would get angry.
Everything became a pretext for blows. You live with the idea that you deserve it because you are not doing things right.’
She said Polette controlled every aspect of her behaviour, forbidding her to go out except to shop or take the children to school, and would check her receipts when she got home to make sure she wasn’t lying.
When he was unable to keep an eye on her, he would get others in the village where they lived to do it for him, she claims.
He chose her hairstyle, her clothes, and the names for their children – which eventually totalled four.
Polette also routinely beat her, threatened her with weapons, and forced her into prostitution for other truck drivers.
Operating out of the back of a Peugeot people-carrier under the name of Adeline, Bacot says Polette dictated her actions using a earpiece.
When not working with clients, Bacot says she was forbidden from leaving the house and cut off from outside social contact – with Polette allegedly threatening to kill her children if she alerts police.
Bacot’s children reportedly contacted police twice themselves but were brushed off, with officers reportedly telling them that the victim herself needed to complain.
Bacot said Polette also forced her into prostitution – physically and mentally abusing her, and threatening to kill their children if she refused
Janine Bonaggiunta, one of the laywers defending Bacot, speaks outside the court in Chalon-sur-Saone where she went on trial for murder today
When Polette started questioning Bacot’s 14-year old daughter about her budding sexuality, Bacot said she decided that ‘this has to stop’.
On March 2016, after Polette ordered his wife to undergo yet another sexual humiliation by a client, she used the pistol that he kept in the car to kill him with a single bullet to the back of the neck while he was in the driver’s seat.
Bacot then hid the body in a forest with the help of two of her four children.
In October 2017 she was arrested, confessed and one year later was released pending her trial while remaining under judicial control.
She made no comment as she arrived at the courthouse Monday, appearing intimidated by the crowd of reporters awaiting her.
Her lawyers said ahead of the trial that ‘the extreme violence that she suffered for 25 years and the fear that her daughter would be next’ pushed her to kill Polette.
The same lawyers, Janine Bonaggiunta and Nathalie Tomasini, had already defended Jacqueline Sauvage, a French woman who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her abusive husband but won a presidential pardon in 2016 after becoming a symbol for the fight against violence directed at women.
‘These women who are victims of violence have no protection. The judiciary is still too slow, not reactive enough and too lenient towards the perpetrators who can continue to exercise their violent power,’ Bonaggiunta told AFP.
‘This is precisely what can push a desperate woman to kill in order to survive,’ she said.
Bacot was ‘certain that she needed to commit this act to protect her children’, a court evaluation found.
More than 500,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Bacot, who risks life in prison for murder, be cleared of the charge.