As France continued to vent allegations that a prominent member of the Parisian intellectual elite sexually abused his then 14-year-old stepson, a wave of testimony flooded social media under the hashtag #metooinceste .
Thousands of people, including public figures and elected officials, have turned to Twitter in a momentum reminiscent of the #metoo movement, which some consider to be a pivotal moment for the attitude of the French to incest.
“I was 6. He was my older brother. My parents didn’t believe me, ”read a tweet. “It was my uncle. He brought me chocolates, ”read another.
“There is a lot of momentum right now,” said Madeline Da Silva, an organizer behind the launch of #metooinceste and a member of the feminist group #NousToutes.
This trend follows the publication of a lawyer book earlier this month. Camille Kouchner in which she alleged that her twin brother had been sexually assaulted as a child by their stepfather Olivier Duhamel, political analyst and broadcaster.
As a result, the country’s Senate on Thursday approved a law to give minors 13 and under additional protection against sexual assault. The legislation also contained a provision aimed at strengthening the penalties available to courts in cases of incest.
The #NousToutes group originally planned to launch around 150 tweets from incest survivors on January 16, following the Duhamel scandal. The hashtag then quickly gained momentum with tens of thousands of tweets from other victims. “The problem with incest is silence. Now the victims are no longer silent, ”said Ms. Da Silva.
One in 10 people in France has been a victim of incest, according to one country survey from November by the Ipsos pollster. It showed that more than three quarters of the victims were women and 98% of the attackers were men.
“These figures indicate a systemic problem,” said Patrick Loiseleur, vice-president of Face à inceste, an organization that helps victims of incest. “Besides an archaic system of male domination, there is also a specific cultural problem in France, where not so long ago intellectuals like Foucault and Sartre defended sexual relations with minors as an expression of free love and the “right to enjoyment” of children.
Unlike most Western countries, incest is currently not specifically prohibited by French law, although sex with a minor is. Victims say the barriers to holding their abusers accountable are enormous, with judges being asked to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a sexual act with a minor is consensual or not.
Aggressors in France are also protected by a limitation period, recently extended to 30 years. Annick Billon, the centrist politician who introduced the new bill to the Senate, has called for the statute of limitations to be extended to 40 years.
The #metooincest campaign follows sexual abuse scandals involving prominent public figures in recent years. In 2019, the author Vanessa Springora describes in a memoir a sexual relationship with writer Gabriel Matzneff who began at the age of 14 in the 1980s. And in February of last year, figure skating champion Sarah Abitbol accused a former coach of having abused her at the age of 15. Adele Haenel also revealed at the end of 2019 how she was abused by a director aged 12 to 15.
Most incest victims in France who sue have to change their complaints from rape to sexual assault, a lesser offense, lawyers say, with only one in 10 rape complaints leading to trial and fewer than a conviction, according to Insee, the French statistical agency.
“There is a level of impunity in matters of incest in France which is unbearable”, declared Muriel Salmona, psychiatrist and founder of the victims group Association Mémoire Traumatique et Victimologie.
A government plan was launched in 2019 to tackle violence against children, including increasing the budget for a helpline, prevention in families and in schools, as well as dedicated teams for identify and treat child abuse.
“You cannot deny that this government has done more to protect children than any other government,” Alexandra Louis, MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche party, told the Financial Times.
She referred to the appointment last year of Adrien Taquet as a member of the government in charge of children and families, increased training for police officers and an online platform to denounce crimes against children. Yet some argue that the measures introduced lacked force.
“We have been and continue to be incredibly disappointed with the government’s response to what amounts to a national public health crisis,” Ms. Salmona said.
A commission to examine the issues of incest and child sexual abuse created last month was rocked by the Duhamel scandal, when its manager, Elisabeth Guigou, resigned because of her close knowledge of Mr Duhamel.
A number of prominent political figures have come together to support #metooinceste, including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Mr Macron’s wife Brigitte.
France is the first country to see an online campaign to bring public attention to incest. “I wouldn’t be surprised if other countries followed suit and had their own #metooincest movement,” Ms. Da Silva said.