Allegations of sexual violence soar in France after Weinstein scandal
Reports of rape, sexual assault and harassment have leapt by almost a third in France following the international scandal surrounding the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
The rise, described as “exceptional” is believed to have been prompted by victims feeling empowered to come forward after the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc (squeal on the pig) campaigns on social media.
The sharp increase in reports in October, up from 1,213 in the same period last year to 1,577 (30%), was revealed by an official source to Agence France-Presse.
Asked about the increase, France’s justice minister said the country’s legal system was equipped to deal with the extra workload but said she was examining the possibility of letting victims register reports of attacks online.
“The victim is at home; she might be able to lodge a “pre-complaint” online without going to the police station … that will then be followed up,” Nicole Belloubet told French radio.
Police in London, Los Angeles and New York have launched investigations into the alleged behaviour by Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by more than 90 women. Weinstein “unequivocally denies” all claims of non-consensual sex, a spokesperson said.
Last week, Richard Lizurey, the director general of the gendarmerie national, wrote to officers and prefects, calling for a “general mobilisation” to prevent violence against women and to support victims.
“I’m counting on each of you to do your utmost to combat violence against women with determination and efficiency,” Lizurey wrote.
He said gendarmes – part of the military – should be aware of even the slightest evidence of violence, which, he added, “should systematically result in a prosecution and pay particular attention in rooting out the growing problem of “cyber violence … [and] where victims express their distress on the internet”.
The report came as the French parliament prepares urgent legislation to set a legal age below which a child cannot be considered to have consented to sex, which a minister has suggested could be as young as 13 years.
Demand for a new law, expected to be presented to the Assemblée nationale early next year, has been sparked by two shocking recent cases in which adult males have been cleared of raping pre-adolescent girls.
Last week, a man was acquitted of rape after a court found no evidence he had forced an 11-year-old girl to have sex. The man, aged 22 at the time, accused the girl, who later became pregnant, of saying she was 14, nearly 15. The age of consent in France is 15.
In a similar case in September a 28-year-old man charged with a lesser offence of sexual assault after investigators said they could not make a rape charge stick because his 11-year-old victim had reportedly not resisted, and as such she was presumed to have consented to sex.
Under French law, for the rape of a child to be considered a crime it has to be proven there was “constraint threats, violence or surprise”.
Victims’ organisations point out a child should not be presumed to have consented in any situation and is often panic stricken, terrified and unable to react. The family of one of the 11-year-old girls said she had been “paralysed” by fear and “unable to defend herself”, which is why she had not fought back.
In the UK absence of consent is “irrefutable” in all sex acts involving children under the age of 16. Similar legislation exists in other European countries including Germany and Spain.
The country’s supreme council has suggested 13 years as an age under which consent cannot be presumed in any instance. Parliamentarians prefer 15 years. “We have to look at the median age of emotional maturity in Europe. It’s somewhere between 13 and 15,” Marlène Schiappa, the gender equality minister, told French television.
Belloubet, told RTL radio, that “13 years can be envisaged”.
“We have to allow the judge to take individual situations into account,” she added. Belloubet is also looking at extending the time limit for child rape cases to be prosecuted from 20 to 30 years.
The feminist group Les effrontée-s has demanded a minimum age of 15 and called for protests outside the justice ministry on Tuesday evening.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is expected to address sexual violence on 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
A women holds a placards reading ‘We will not be silent any more’ during a gathering in Paris against gender-based and sexual violence. Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images