Al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual vi­o­lence soar in France af­ter We­in­stein scan­dal

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Kim Will­sher in Paris

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

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