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Sunday, June 16
The Indiana Daily Student

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France: A horror story

Our program director meant for it to be an end-of-semester discussion of the cultural differences between France and the United States.

In the end, we only discussed one.

The clink of forks and knives against the ceramic plates was abandoned in favor of stunned silence as all 20 sets of eyes were locked on IU junior Stephanie Becht.

Stitches stretched across her chin and her eyes betrayed nothing but exhaustion as she recounted a tale that, to us, participants in the academic year program in Aix-en-Provence, is but a terrifying escalation of an occurrence that, in France, is frighteningly common.

At around 3 a.m. that morning, Becht and fellow IU students Matthew Bochard and Anne Spitz were returning home from buying burgers when they were harassed by a group of drunk French men.

“I kept trying to cut in between them and Anne, then them and Stephanie,” Bochard said. “Then they cornered me and Stephanie, and we fell.”

After Bochard and Becht regained their footing, one of the men began “touching Stephanie inappropriately,” Bochard said.

“So I slapped him,” Becht said. “He hit me, and I fell face-first into the concrete.”
As blood soaked into her scarf, she said she panicked.

“I always told myself that I need to think clearly in situations like that, but nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” Becht said.

Luckily, Becht wasn’t alone. Bochard was joined in his heroism as Spitz memorized faces and outfits and IU junior Amy Kendall called the police.

But in the end, it was another group of French men who noted the direction the assailants were headed – information that ultimately resulted in the arrest of Becht’s attacker.

“I went home hating French men. I had just never seen anyone treat a woman like that,” Bochard said, adding that he had been “a wreck” since the incident. “But then I reminded myself that it was French men, too, who made sure they were caught.”

Bochard’s comment was the sole light of optimism that managed to wrest its way into the overwhelmingly somber sentiment among the American students present.

We like to think that the depraved and sometimes drunken comments shouted to women in the streets stay just that – comments.

We like to think that the preventative measures we take (as Becht said, “we did everything we were supposed to do – we were in a group, we had a guy, we weren’t doing anything provocative at all”) will put us into some kind of protective bubble.

We like to think that a place so linguistically and architecturally and (mostly) culturally beautiful couldn’t allow the unthinkable and random and horrifying to happen.

But then the unthinkable and random and horrifying happens.

Yes, French men are more aggressive than their American counterparts.

Yes, verbal violence can escalate to something physical.

Yes, from this vantage point we were able to watch the cultural puzzle pieces fall slowly into place.

But what have we gained from this new cultural knowledge acquisition, save a prayer that we’ll never again see the puzzle completed?

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