Terror victims' SOS answered

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THE French public has, quite literally, been under siege. A series of bomb attacks last month left 10 people dead and over 150 injured. In the past, photos of these terror victims would have appeared on the front page and then become a statistic. No longer. Thanks to Fran,coise Rudetzki.

Mrs. Rudetzki has founded an association, SOS Attacks, to help victims of terrorism in France. The group works to raise public consciousness about the problems faced by terror victims. Funded fully by voluntary contributions, SOS Attacks also educates victims about their rights and recourse to compensation.

Rudetzki's dedication stems from personal experience. In December 1983, one day before Christmas Eve, Fran,coise Rudetzki and her husband dined out at the fashionable Grand Vefour restaurant. As they were leaving, a bomb ripped through the restaurant, wounding her husband and seriously injuring her. Mrs. Rudetzki is now confined to a wheelchair.

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She faced a whole new series of problems: There was no one to take care of her nine-year-old daughter; she lost her job as the head of a clothing company; she needed someone at home all day to help.

But there were no provisions in French law to help people like Rudetzki.

So from her living room, in November 1985, she founded SOS Attacks -- a group run by and for the victims of terrorist attacks. Since then her association has reviewed the laws covering victims of terrorist attacks and their rights to claim damages, and has successfully lobbied for new legislation to help the victims.

But, most importantly, Rudetzki has extended a helping hand and a sympathetic ear to numerous victims who have felt embittered and abandoned. Her concern and enthusiasm have given them hope. More than 70 victims and 200 wellwishers now belong to SOS Attacks.

``The victims who've come to see me are people completely beaten, destroyed,'' Rudetzki says. ``They have no desire to go out, to work.'' Very few knew what legal or administrative steps were necessary to apply for help, she adds.

``When you're wounded you need moral support, and that's the role of SOS Attacks,'' says Isabelle Pabion, a secretary who was injured in a terrorist attack at Paris's Orly Airport in July 1983 that killed eight people and wounded 60.

``You want human contact, not a form to fill out,'' Ms. Pabion says. ``You want to know someone cares. I wanted to explain to someone what happened to me. What should I do? SOS Attacks guides people.''

In the past, many victims found that stores and restaurants were not insured for injuries to their clientele -- only for property damage.

In 1983, the French justice minister created a commission to investigate and compensate the victims of terrorism, robberies, assaults, and other attacks. But winning a settlement from this commission involved dealing with a labyrinthine bureaucracy. And individuals could only seek help there if all other avenues, such as social security and insurance, had proved fruitless.

Many victims were discouraged from applying for aid by the specter of years of legal battles and the small settlements that frequently resulted.

``The restaurant where I was wounded pretended nobody was hurt seriously,'' Rudetzki says. ``They were insured for material damage and did a lavish renovation. I wrote to them saying `The insurance paid for your renovation, now what can you do for me?' They never answered.''

To help pay for household help, she called the social security office, but was told it had no mandate to aid people like her. ``Why should the victims of terrorist attacks be treated worse than the victims of traffic accidents?'' Rudetzki mused. ``I started to ask `What do other people do?' No one knew. No one kept track of these people.''

Almost singlehandedly, Rudetski lobbied France's political parties during elections last spring. She extracted promises from them to help vote into effect a law to help the victims of terror. Last month, a new law was approved, which will compensate the victims of the recent series of bombings that began September 8.

In the future, all victims -- foreign or French -- of terrorist attacks on French soil, will be compensated, as will French citizens traveling abroad. Rudetzki has even received a promise from Prime Minister Jacques Chirac to have the Ministry of Interior compensate past victims not covered by the new law.

Her work continues. SOS Attacks is conducting a survey of 1,000 victims of terrorist attacks in recent years, to determine the long-term physical, psychological, and material effects.

According to Rudetzki and others, terror victims suffer more than physical injuries. Many women wounded in terrorist attacks, for instance, are later abandoned by their husbands, who cannot handle the pressures of adapting to life with a handicapped spouse. Children often cannot cope with the new family situation of a handicapped parent.

When the latest wave of bombings began in Paris last month, Rudetzki was inundated with phone calls from the relatives of victims asking for help. The mayor's office opened an emergency service to help those injured recently.

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