Child sexual abuse in France

In the UK, the revelations about Jimmy Saville led to profound changes in of the public perception of child sexual abuse, and to the creation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).  The impact of these revelations was later magnified by the #MeToo movement. 

In France, the #MeToo movement was more of a starting point.  Since then, a number of sports stars have revealed past sexual abuse by their coaches (as depicted in the movie Slalom’. Sarah Abitbol, a champion figure skater, accused her former coach of raping her over many years.  The head of the French Ice Sports Federation was forced to resign after his internal investigation was found to be a cover-up.  Similar stories are coming from the worlds of tennis and athletics.  A number of TV and film stars have made similar revelations.  Adèle Haenel (who starred in ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’) accused director Christophe Ruggia of sexually harassing her when she was only 12.

Two recent books are also having a significant impact of the public perception of child sexual abuse.  In her memoir Consent, Vanessa Springora gives a searing account of being groomed and sexually abused by Gabriel Matzneff – a high profile literary figure then in his late 40s– when she was aged 14 to 16.  Her book is now a best-seller, translated in many languages.  She describes how, as a precocious and bookish girl, she was manipulated by Matzneff into believing this was a story of love between equals.  What a contrast to the 1970s when Matzneff was the one receiving media attention and openly discussing his preference for underage sexual partners (including Filipino boys as young as 8) on French TV.  His essay titled Les Moins de Seize Ans (The Under-16s) was followed by many books narrating his sexual encounters with underage boys and girls.  Despite his readership being confidential, Matzneff was still published by the most prestigious French publisher (Gallimard) until recently. 

In her memoir La Familia Grande Camille Kouchner alleges that from the age of 13 her twin brother was sexually abused by their stepfather Olivier Duhamel, and that – when informed later – their mother refused to intervene. She describes long summer holidays on the French Riviera, in a sexually permissive environment. Olivier Duhamel, a leading figure in the academic and political scene for the last 30 years, is eminently well-connected.  He has since resigned all his positions, including his prestigious role overseeing Sciences Po (the leading institution training political and business elites in France).  Others have resigned in the fallout from the revelations.  A police investigation is underway.  This has led many to report similar stories using the hashtag #metooinceste. 

Coincidentally additional protection for sexually abused children is being debated in parliament. At the moment in France the lack of an age of consent and the statute of limitations make it difficult to prosecute non-recent sexual offences against children.  Under proposed new legislation, sexual penetration by an adult on a minor under 15 will now automatically amount to rape.  The victim’s apparent consent will be irrelevant.  Stronger sanctions will apply if incest is involved.


Geneviève Rich at BLM genevieve.rich@blmlaw.com

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