A French IICSA?

France is increasingly dealing with its own legacy of child sexual abuse.  Following on from revelations of widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, inquiries have been set up in various countries.  In 2018 a German committee reported on sexual violence in the Catholic Church.  One month later the French bishops decided to hold their own independent inquiry.   The Ciase or Commission indépendante sur les abus sexuels dans l’Eglise catholique(Independent Committee on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church) was convened in November 2018.  It will report this week.

Its chair is Jean-Marc Sauvé, formerly the highest-ranking civil servant in France.  He took crucial decisions in the early months, such as deciding to exclude religious office-holders and victims’ representatives from its board, and individually selecting the 21 board members based on their in-depth knowledge of issues relevant to the inquiry.  Work started in February 2019.  Since then, these board members have spent many months touring France, meeting victims individually and listening to their stories.  It is a striking feature of the Ciase that collecting this evidence was put at the heart of its work, and was not delegated.  The number of victims since the early 1950s was initially thought to be in the region of 3,000; it is now expected to exceed 10,000.  Research has also been commissioned about the prevalence of sexual abuse in the general population compared to the Catholic Church, and its impact on victims’ health. 

The Ciase is expected to report on the number of victims in the Catholic Church, the circumstances and types of abuse and to make a series of recommendations.

Meanwhile another independent inquiry is starting work on child sexual abuse and incest.  The Ciivise, or  Commission indépendante sur l’inceste et toutes violences sexuelles faites aux enfants  (Independent Committee on Incest and all Sexual Violence against Children) was officially set up in March 2021.  It has two co-chairs and 20 members (a mix of lawyers, police officers, doctors, academics).  Its original chair, former Justice Secretary Elisabeth Guigou, resigned from her post after it transpired she was a close family friend of Olivier Duhamel – an influential academic and political player accused last year of sexually abusing his stepson in the memoir ‘La Familia Grande’ (see our previous blog here.)

The Ciivise members are visiting hospitals, specialist settings, police services, and will soon tour France to hold public meetings and encourage victims to share their stories.  A dedicated platform has been set up for victims, and support is being arranged.  The Ciivise is expected to make recommendations on preventing child sexual abuse, improving support services for victims and imposing sanctions on perpetrators.  No date has yet been set for these recommendations. 

Written by Genevieve Rich at BLM (genevieve.rich@blmlaw.com)

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.

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