Samira Bellil (November 24, 1972 – September 7, 2004) was a French feminist activist and a campaigner for the rights of girls and women.
Bellil became famous in France with the publication of her autobiographical book Dans l'enfer des tournantes ('In the hell of the "tournantes" (gang-rapes)) in 2002. The book discusses the violence she and other young women endured in the predominantly Muslim immigrant outskirts of Paris, where she was repeatedly gang-raped as a teenager by gangs led by people she knew, and then abandoned by her family and friends. Her book is a portrayal of the predicament of young girls in the poor, outlying suburbs (banlieue) of French cities.
The book is available in English (translated by Lucy R. McNair) as "To Hell and back" with the subtitle "The Life of Samira Bellil".
Bellil was born to Algerian parents in Algiers, but her family migrated to France and settled in the Parisian suburb of Val-d'Oise. Her father was jailed almost immediately and she was fostered by a family in Belgium for five years, before being called back to her parents.
Samira was first gang-raped when she was 14, by a gang led by someone she knew. They beat her viciously and raped her all night. A month later, one of the most violent attackers in the gang followed her and dragged her off a train by her hair, while other passengers looked the other way. She was then brutally raped by him again.
She did not report her rapes until two friends told her that the same gang had sexually assaulted them too. Samira decided to appeal to the French legal system to prosecute her attackers. In the end, the ring leader of the gang was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Bellil's parents, who believed they were shamed by her presence, expelled her from her house. "People outside the community don't know," Bellil has written. "And everyone in the community knows, but they won't say anything."
Eventually, she found a psychologist who helped her. She had years of therapy, and describes how she decided to write her book to show other young women gang-rape victims that there was a way out. "It's long and it's difficult, but it's possible," she wrote in the dedication - to "my sisters in trouble". She used her real name and put her photo on the cover. She dedicated the book to her "girlfriends, so that they realize that one can overcome the traumatic" and to Boris Cyrulnik, her therapist.
Ni Putes Ni Soumises
Bellil helped found a young women's activist group called Ni Putes Ni Soumises ("Neither whores nor submissives") which has publicly addressed the issue of violence against young women in France. The group drew the attention of the French and European press as they organized marches and press conferences to bring attention to the tragic events happening to young women in the Islamic neighborhoods of France. She denounced the gang-rapes (known as tournantes, or "pass-arounds") and described how she overcame both her traumatic experiences and the need for revenge.
In part due to Bellil's book and the activism of Ni Putes Ni Soumises, the French government and the mayor's office in Paris began investigating the problem of violence against young women in French Muslim communities.
In 2005 a French school in l’Île-Saint-Denis was named in her honor: Ecole Samira Bellil.
- CBS News: Article on Samira Bellil
- Time Magazine: Sisters In Hell
- The Guardian: Gang rape on rise among French youth
- Reuters: Girls terrorized in France’s macho ghettos
- The Guardian: Article on Samira Bellil
- BBC News: France in shock over gang rape
- The Australian: Tournantes in Australia
- Sydney Morning Herald: Muslim gang rapes in Sydney Australia
- CNN Transcript: Muslim Women Rebel In France
- ABC News: Paris gang rape trial begins
- Book review Neither whores nor submissives and In gang-rape hell
- Vanity Fair: Daughters of France, Daughters of Allah
- Newsweek: Sexism in the cités
- IBC: Remembering Samira Bellil
Studies on the Phenomena of Tournantes
- Tournantes Documented cases in Paris In French
- "Tournantes : un phénomène international" French study on the tournante phenomenon in several countries, zipped pdf file
- 'No surprise' over group rape findings