The charge of incest in a prominent family prompts France to take child abuse into account

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It all started with damning allegations of extracts from books published in the prestigious French newspaper Le Monde at the start of the new year.

“I was 14 years old and I gave up (…). I was 14, I knew and didn’t say anything.

“My stepfather would come to my brother’s room. I could hear his footsteps in the hallway and I knew he was joining him. In this silence, I imagined things. That he was asking my brother to stroke him maybe, to suck him.

“I was waiting. I was waiting for him to come out of the room, full of unknown smells and immediately despised,” wrote the author of the book, 45-year-old lawyer Camille Kouchner. “By not naming what was happening, I participated in the incest. “

More than a month after its publication, Kouchner’s book, “La familia grande”, continues to shake France.

In it, Kouchner accuses his stepfather, the main French intellectual Olivier Duhamel, of having abused his twin brother from the age of 14.

The twins are the children of former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

Their stepfather, Duhamel, is a former socialist member of the European Parliament and a renowned political scientist who has also headed the board of directors of Sciences Po, one of France’s leading universities.

“Being the subject of personal attacks and in an attempt to preserve the institutions in which I work, I am terminating my functions,” Duhamel wrote on Twitter on January 4, shortly after the accusations surfaced. The tweet coincided with his resignation from the board of directors of Sciences Po as well as his departure from roles in an intellectual club and a political science publication.

Duhamel has since deleted the tweet and his Twitter account.

On January 5, the Paris prosecutor’s office announced that it was opening an investigation into Duhamel for “rape and sexual assault by a person having authority over a 15-year-old minor”, while the statute of limitations had expired.

CNN has contacted Duhamel’s attorney for comment but has not received a response. The political scientist has not spoken publicly since his resignation.

Duhamel’s stepson – Camille Kouchner’s twin brother – also lodged a complaint against Duhamel last month, according to a statement from his lawyer Jacqueline Laffont obtained by CNN and initially sent to the AFP news agency.

“As part of the ‘Duhamel affair’, the alleged victim informed AFP, through his lawyer, Jacqueline Laffont, that he had lodged a complaint against his ex-father-in-law, Mr. Olivier Duhamel following the opening of a preliminary investigation by the Paris prosecutor’s office, ”the statement read.

Top university rocked

The repercussions of the Duhamel affair are felt far beyond his family circle.

The director of Sciences Po, Frédéric Mion, resigned Tuesday in a letter to professors and students published on the university’s website.

The university is one of the most elite schools in France, having produced five French prime ministers and five French presidents, including current leader Emmanuel Macron.

Over the past month, Mion was under pressure to quit student groups after admitting to being made aware of the allegations against Duhamel as early as 2018.

In his resignation letter, Mion referred to a report from the Department of Education on his handling of the case, conceding that he had committed “an error in judgment in dealing with the allegations communicated to me in 2018. as well as inconsistencies in the way I expressed it. myself on this case after it broke up.

In a statement released on January 7, Mion reacted to an article published in Le Monde the day before, saying he was aware of the allegations although he initially denied them.

“Having no hard evidence or in-depth or specific knowledge of the situation, I found it hard to believe the rumors could be true,” Mion wrote in the statement. He said finding out from the press the extent of Duhamel’s alleged actions was “a shock to me personally.”

But on Wednesday, in an email to CNN, former Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti – formerly Mion’s colleague at Sciences Po – said Mion called her when the revelations around Duhamel surfaced a short while ago. months and reportedly told him, “We shouldn’t let anyone think we knew.

CNN has contacted Mion but has not received a response.

Mion is just one of many members of the French elite to be affected by the Duhamel scandal.

Jean Veil, eminent lawyer and old friend of Duhamel, admitted to the newspaper Le Monde that he had known about incest for “at least 10 years”, invoking “professional secrecy” to explain his silence.

Camille Kouchner denounced in her book what she considers to be the silence of the French intelligentsia.

“Very quickly, the microcosm of people in power, Saint-Germain-des-Prés [a fancy neighborhood on the Left Bank that has long been associated with the French intellectual elite] was informed. A lot of people knew this and most pretended that nothing had happened, ”she writes.

The victims come forward

Beyond the elite of the country where he is from, the Duhamel scandal has caused a national toll of incest in France, with hundreds of alleged victims showing up on social networks under the hashtag #MetooInceste. The French took to Twitter to share heartbreaking stories of child abuse at the hands of parents and family members and how this trauma – and the sense of shame and isolation that accompanies it – has often lingered in their lives adult.

Feminist thinker and activist Caroline De Haas, who was one of the initiators of #MeTooIncest, told CNN: “We wanted to show that incest was a political and collective issue.

She explained that the #MeTooIncest movement came from a desire to move from the individual story of the Kouchner twins to a collective story of incest.

French lawyers have also seen an increase in the number of victims showing up to share their stories. Child protection lawyer Marie Grimaud told France Inter radio on Tuesday that “for three weeks, we have received many calls from women who have realized the need to talk, to meet a lawyer, to file a complaint ”. Besides the victims themselves, Grimaud said his office had been contacted by people “on behalf of a brother or a little sister or a niece” who they said “could be in danger”.

Facing Incest, an NGO supporting victims of abuse, said 10% of French people had been victims of incest, according to a representative survey of 1,033 French adults aged 18 and over, interviewed online on November 4 and 5. 2020 by the IPSOS polling agency. “It is a mass crime that we are talking about,” said the non-profit.

Facing Incest has long advocated for a change in the law to better protect minors against sexual abuse within the family. With the Duhamel scandal making the headlines of the French media for more than a month, the government has seized on the issue.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti told France 2’s public broadcaster on Tuesday that the government planned to classify any penetrative sexual relationship with a child under 15 as rape.

Currently, for sexual intercourse with a minor under 15 to be considered a serious crime – rather than a lesser offense with a lighter penalty – it is necessary to prove coercion, violence, threat or abuse. surprise.

“The question of the victim’s consent will no longer be raised. We will not ask ourselves whether or not the victim was consenting ”, if she was less than 15 years old, the young Minister of Children and Families Adrien Taquet told Europe 1 on Tuesday.

In France, incest is legally defined as sexual intercourse between two people related to a degree where marriage is prohibited. In addition to direct family ties, the ban also includes parents by marriage – divorced people cannot therefore marry a child or a parent of their ex-spouse, for example. The civil code does not prohibit marriage between cousins.

Beyond that, incest is not illegal as long as the relationship is freely consensual between people over 15, the age of sexual consent in the country. Although rape is prohibited, regardless of the perpetrator, sexual offenses committed by a family member or “anyone with authority over the victim” carry a heavier penalty.

Facing Incest said on its Twitter account that the government’s proposals on the age of consent were “elusive” and expressed hope that MPs would bring more clarity while working on the bill.

De Haas told CNN that the current debates around the bill “bother” her because of their focus on repressive legislation. “What is needed is a public policy of training and prevention,” she declared.

Reflecting on the wider impact of the Duhamel scandal on French society, De Haas said the case brought incest to the forefront of public debate and made it a high political issue.

“It’s thanks to the legacy of #MeToo,” she said, noting that the movement has come to realize that sexual violence is not isolated acts but a social and political phenomenon.

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