The dream of being a young artist in France was shattered one July evening in 1999, when 21-year-old Claire McFarlane, who now lives in Byron Bay, was viciously slashed, raped and left to die in the arrondissement du Panthéon by an unknown attacker.
‘I was in France on a student visa’, says Claire. ‘I was learning French and had a part-time job in a bar, and I was preparing my portfolio for the fine arts school in Paris.’
It turned out that the man who assaulted Claire was a serial rapist who had offended just one month before in the exact same location.
But police, in the hope of not scaring him off, had not made the attack public and unsuspecting women went about their lives ignorant of the possible danger.
Claire says had she known, she would not have walked alone late in the evening after work to find a taxi.
Three months after the attack, Claire returned home to Australia to try to rebuild her life. ‘The police stayed in sporadic contact with me for about a year afterwards, then, a few years after that they archived the case. At the time in France, DNA records were not on a database.’ In the meantime, her assailant – Cameroon-born Eric Priso-Nseke Mouelle – had re-offended at least once.
Claire says that it wasn’t until 2009 when a young police officer found a pile of old cases that had not been entered into the database that Mouelle’s DNA was matched with Claire’s evidence.
The case was re-opened and this is where insult was added to injury: ‘In June 2009 I was contacted by French police saying they had found the guy, they had a DNA match and I needed to get to Paris as quickly as possible to do a line-up.’
Claire identified Mouelle straight away and the process to convict him began.
Victim pays costs
In a confusing twist of French law, once Mouelle was taken into custody, Claire was asked if she wanted to prosecute the case. It was then she discovered that unless she paid for the court proceedings and legal representation, he would walk free. Claire went ahead – Mouelle was found guilty and sent to jail for twelve years. While it was a just result that played out in the highest criminal court in the country, it was financed entirely by Claire.
To date, these legal proceeding have cost her about $30,000. In an effort to try to recoup some of the costs, Claire must again travel to Paris. ‘In an attempt to claim back half of these expenses, I have now been forced into an appeal proceeding which will cost up to another $6,000.’
Recently Claire was advised she must again go through that traumatic event and needs to be in court in Paris on June 5 to testify – so she is mounting a GoFundMe appeal to ask for assistance.
To help Claire along, the crew at CrossFit Byron Bay are holding a fundraiser where there will events for all levels as well as face-painters for the kids, a sausage sizzle, yummy paleo treats and coffee.
Half of the proceeds will go towards Claire’s GoFundMe campaign, and the other half is being donated to a local non-profit organisation that supports women who are victims of sexual assault.
The CrossFit fundraisers will be held this Saturday from 8am. For more information about Claire’s story visit www.gofundme.com/clairesbattletojustice.