A French woman who was raped, beaten and prostituted by her stepfather-turned-husband for more than two decades has gone on trial for 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.
Bacot, who has written a book about her experience called Everybody Knew, went before a court in Chalon-sur-Saone, Burgundy, on Monday facing life in jail for 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.
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
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.
Bacot says she wanted to take contraceptive pills or get abortions so she would stop falling pregnant, but was forbidden from going to the doctor.
With each birth, the violence got progressively worse. Polette began using weapons – at one point knocking her out with a hammer over the Christmas holidays, and routinely threatening her with a gun.
He also began prostituting her out to other truck drivers.
Operating out of the back of a Peugeot people-carrier under the name of Adeline, Bacot says Polette watched the acts and dictated her movements via an earpiece.
But, so as to leave clients in no doubt about who she ‘belonged’ to, he had his initials tattooed on her private parts.
‘He wanted to mark his territory, show others that I belonged to him,’ she added.
Bacot says her children contacted police twice on her behalf but were brushed off, with officers telling them that the victim needed to complain.
Journalists wait outside the courtroom in Chalon-sur-Saone, France, where Bacot is standing trial for Polette’s murder
Things came to a head in 2016, when Polette was routinely questioning Bacot’s 14-year-old daughter about her sexuality – leading her to fear that he would start prostituting the teenager out as well.
Then, on March 13, came a visit from a violent client. Bacot said she refused to carry out a certain sex act for him, so he forced her into it – leaving her bleeding.
Afterwards, she claims Polette criticised her, telling her the man would refuse to come back and that she would have to make up for it.
Having tried to drug Polette using sleeping pills crushed into his coffee, Bacot then went for a revolver that she knew her husband kept between the seats in the back of the car.
While he was sitting in the front seat, she drew the handgun and fired it once through the back of his neck, killing him instantly.
Bacot then buried the body in a forest with the help of her two eldest sons and her daughter’s boyfriend, who she says offered to help so police wouldn’t take her away.
But in 2017, cops were alerted to the killing after the boyfriend confessed to his own mother – prompting her to call gendarmes.
They arrested Bacot who subsequently confessed to the killing, but was released on bail one year later pending trial.
Bacot’s son and the daughter’s boyfriend were subsequently jailed for six months each for concealment of a corpse for the part they played in the cover-up.
Bacot now faces life in jail for murder.
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.