Some things are kept silent – also because perhaps nobody wants to hear them. Incest and pedophilia, for example. Revelations among France’s elite are now so powerful that silence is no longer an option for many.
It’s like it only took a spark to cause an explosion. France is angry, it is a revolt by those who have so far been silent.
Since the lawyer Camille Kouchner’s revelations about her well-known stepfather, numerous victims of sexual violence in the country have broken their silence.
The alleged perpetrators are well-known personalities of the Parisian elite from politics and society. And it’s about nothing less than pedophilia and incest, but also sexual assault among students. The allegations come with such force that the government can no longer keep its feet still.
Allegations against political scientist Duhamel: Sexually abusive towards stepson
Kouchner published a book in January – it is called “La Familia grande” (“The big family”). In it, she accuses her stepfather and well-known Parisian political scientist Olivier Duhamel of having sexually assaulted her then-underage twin brother over three decades ago.
Duhamel did not respond directly to the allegations, but had resigned from his position after they became known. With her description, Kouchner triggered a debate about abuse that in France is comparable in intensity to the worldwide MeToo wave a few years ago.
The allegations of abuse are said to have long been known to the Parisian intellectual elite. And: having been discreetly ignored for years. What followed were more resignations – most recently the director of the elite University of Sciences Po, Frédéric Mion, took his hat after he initially wanted to sit out the affair.
But in the end, the pressure was probably too great, and massive protests broke out among the students. Mion had previously admitted that he had heard of allegations against Duhamel years ago.
The reveal ended Duhamel’s top career sooner than Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein fell in 2017.
But no one openly accused Duhamel, no one filed a lawsuit against him. The raped stepson also wanted to let the matter rest. He did not resist his sister’s book, however.
The twins are children of the former Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who became known as the founder of “Doctors Without Borders”. Like so many others, he knew about Duhamel’s goings-on, but he is only said to have said once that he would “polish his face” if their paths should ever cross. The mother Evelyne Pisier did not want the sexual behavior of her new husband Duhamel to get into the media either.
Perhaps she felt guilty herself for having worshiped the most permissive manners in the family summer villa on the Mediterranean. “La familia grande”, to which the book title alludes, was also the “gauche caviar” – which can best be translated as the salon left – which emerged from May 68 and broke out of the Catholicism of the de Gaulle era. The lawyer Camille Kouchner describes how adults and children would have wrested naked at the pool and kissed on the mouth. Evelyne Pisier himself had a year-long liaison with the Cuban autocrat Fidel Castro. When she found out from her son what Duhamel was doing to him, she stopped him.
Her own sister, the well-known actress Marie-France Pisier, at times herself in a relationship with the 68 pedophile Daniel Cohn-Bendit, could not bear this silence. She was telling around Saint-Germain-des-Prés which “salaud” (pig guy) Duhamel was. So many found out what had happened in the holiday villa in Sanary-sur-Mer.
After Marie-France Pisier’s death in 2011 – she was found dead in her swimming pool – other women continued reporting. The former minister of culture Aurélie Filipetti informed the director of Sciences Po, Frédéric Mion, in 2019. He is unable to explain today why he left Duhamel by his side. Mion rejects the increasing demands for resignation. Former culture minister Elisabeth Guigou, an old friend of Duhamel, has given up the leadership of a national commission against incest under public pressure.
President Emmanuel Macron has not yet commented on the Duhamel affair. In an interview, his wife Brigitte demanded “tougher laws” in the area of limitation periods. Duhamel can no longer be challenged today. He has not spoken up since he gave up all his offices.
#MetooInceste – Victims share their experiences online
The author and publisher Vanessa Springora had already denounced pedophilia in the literary and intellectual scene with allegations against the celebrated writer Gabriel Matzneff. The shock was deep, activists wrote on the walls of Parisian houses: “Vanessa, we believe you.” But now Kouchner’s revelations have brought the anger to boil over.
In it, the publisher describes how in 1985, when she was 13 at the time, she became the lover of the star author, who was almost 40 years older and celebrated in Parisian circles, and who never made a secret of his pedophile obsessions.
It was over dinner in the mid-1980s that Vanessa met the cultivated writer Gabriel Matzneff. In the following weeks he wooed her with longing letters and romantic advances. The 13-year-old was flattered, even in love, and agreed to become his lover. Her single mother was initially shocked but eventually accepted the liaison.
It is oppressive to read how manipulative Gabriel Matzneff proceeded, which mechanisms he used to create trust, which strategies of cover-up he followed. Vanessa Springora’s book is not about sexual aberration, but about domination and exploitation, about perpetrators and victims, about power and complicity.
Even more shocked, however, how understandingly, evenly approvingly, the society reacted to Matzneff’s pedophilia. As early as the 1970s, he had made a programmatic declaration of sex with minors. In 1974 he published his essay “Les moins de seize ans” (in German “The under-16s”), in which he recommended his preference to others and stylized himself as the “benefactor” of young people.
How was it possible that society, which knew of his inclinations, tolerated his behavior, which was classified as criminal even then? The police are said to have started investigations against him as early as the 1980s, but they fizzled out. How so? Was the famous writer under special protection?
Society let him go because he was surrounded by the artist’s aura. In 2013 he received the prestigious Renaudot Literature Prize for his essay writing.
“It hurts as an adolescent to see how society becomes an accomplice to the perpetrator. That’s exactly what I experienced. Today I am happy about what moved the book. That helps me to reconcile with society again. I see that something is changing. ”
On the Internet, numerous victims recently shared their experiences of abuse within their families under the keyword #MetooInceste – reported feelings of guilt and powerlessness.
According to an estimate by the polling institute Ipsos, based on a survey, ten percent of the people in the country are victims of incest. The majority of the victims are therefore women. The current allegations hit well-known actors as well as politicians – and meanwhile also concern the judiciary.
Law in France allows sex with minors under certain conditions
The focus of the debate is also on a legal regulation that makes it possible for adults to be punished mildly or even acquitted after having sex with minors.
This is possible because the law in France considers the child’s consent as a reliever for sexual acts with children under the age of 15. It is up to the courts to judge whether the minor was able to consent to the sexual relationship.
The French government now wants to change that and introduce a so-called age of consent. For example, anyone who wants to have consensual sex in Germany must be at least 14 years old.
Celebrities are calling for a change in the law
“An act of sexual penetration carried out by an adult on a minor under the age of 15 will be counted as rape,” France Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti recently made clear. There is a turning point in society, the law must be changed accordingly. Previously, President Emmanuel Macron had put pressure.
“After the victims have found the strength and courage to open the eyes of society wide, you who make the laws cannot be the only ones to close them partially,” said an open letter to the government for example, singer Carla Bruni, actress Juliette Binoche and national soccer coach Didier Deschamps have signed.
For you, the government’s promises don’t go far enough. “We cannot be satisfied with your little progress, our expectations are far too high for that.”
Sexualized violence also at Sciences Po’s elite college
But the outcry in France goes beyond the previous taboo subject of incest. Most recently, female students reported on sexual violence at the elite University Sciences Po. It is known in the country as the “university of power” – Macron is one of the graduates as well as top managers in business.
Share their experiences under the hashtag #SciencesPorcs – a play on the French word for pig – porc. The students denounce sexist behavior and sexual violence, including rape, and accuse the university administration of protecting the perpetrators – students or professors.
Previous measures have apparently not been sufficient, reacted now, for example, the Sciences Po in Strasbourg. “Indeed, the silence must be broken and these facts are by no means taken lightly.”
The anger in the country – but it continues.