Crime stirs a shocked debate in France

Mary Dejevsky, in Paris, reports on the killing of an 11-year- old girl by a man with a history of sex offences

For the past two weeks France has been shocked by the case of "la petite Karine", an 11-year-old who was found dead not far from her home in Redon, north-west France. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled as she walked home from the swimming pool.

Public concern turned to indignation when it was disclosed that the man arrested for the murder - a married man with three children living locally - had not only confessed but had already served a 10-year prison sentence for sex offences. The new refrain is "what can be done with recidivist sex offenders?"

Legal specialists have pointed out that the law in France could not have prevented 32-year-old Michel Bazarewski from killing. Although he had been convicted of raping a young girl and of several attempted rapes, he had served his jail sentence without any special remission. Having "repaid his debt to society", he was not required to submit to psychiatric treatment or be monitored.

This case, however, has prompted calls for sexual offenders to be treated differently after their release. Among lawyers and psychiatric specialists there is broad acceptance that recidivism represents a special problem among sex offenders, and that the tendency is for the offences to escalate - from attempted rape, to rape, to rape with menaces and ultimately to murder. In this respect, Bazarewski seems to present a typical profile.

Experts are divided on what can be done, because of the difficulty of reconciling an offender's rights as an individual with the risk of his reoffending.

A commission of inquiry set up after an earlier murder by a recidivist, which reported last year, recommended that a court should require such offenders to take treatment both during their imprisonment and afterwards and they should then be monitored for many years by doctors and psychiatrists.

Some areas, including Nice, are experimenting with the continuing medical and psychiatric treatment of sex offenders, but the only prison specialising in sex offenders is in Corsica, and it is still waiting for its promised treatment unit to be set up.

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