image copyrightAFPimage captionThe case of Valerie Bacot, seen in the yellow scarf, has captured national media attention

The trial has started in the case of a French woman who shot dead a man she says abused her years – first as her stepfather then later as her husband.

Valerie Bacot was just 12 when Daniel Polette began raping her. He was jailed but later returned to the family home and allegedly resumed the abuse.

She alleges he forced her to marry him and fathered her four children.

Ms Bacot admits killing him in 2016 but more than 600,000 people have signed a petition calling for her release.

She says she shot Polette dead during an encounter in which he had allegedly been forcing her to work as a prostitute.

Ms Bacot hid the body with the help of two of her children but was arrested in October 2017 and confessed to the killing.

The trial is a major news story in France and has galvanised public debate about violence against women.

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The case bears similarity to that of another French woman – Jacqueline Sauvage – who was jailed for killing her abusive husband but later received a presidential pardon.

Ms Bacot's lawyers said "the extreme violence that she suffered for 25 years and the fear that her daughter would be next" had driven her to carry out the killing.

Last month, a book about the 40-year-old's life story was released in which she wrote that she was "afraid all the time" and "had to put an end to it".

image copyrightAFPimage captionOne of her lawyers, Janine Bonaggiunta, said female victims of violence "have no protection"

Ms Bacot says Polette, who was 25 years her senior, began sexually abusing her when she was only 12.

He spent two and a half years in jail for the assaults in the 1990s, but later returned to the family home and first made her pregnant aged 17.

Ms Bacot says Polette married her and became physically abusive, later forcing her to prostitute herself from a vehicle.

She admits shooting him dead with his own pistol after an incident involving a client in March 2016.

Prosecutors will argue that the killing was pre-meditated while the defence say Ms Bacot felt she had to kill him to protect herself and her children.

"These women who are victims of violence have no protection," lawyer Janine Bonaggiunta told AFP. "The judiciary is still too slow, not reactive enough and too lenient towards the perpetrators who can continue to exercise their violent power.

"This is precisely what can push a desperate woman to kill in order to survive."

The trial is being held in Chalon-sur-Saône in central France and is expected to last about a week.