I N T E R N A T I O N A L
Tafhim Radita Ali
Tens of thousands of people took to Twitter and to the streets under the #metooinceste movement as France reckons with the consequences of their laws and societal taboos. Starting with the book La Familia Grande, published in January, the author Camille Kouchner brings to attention what many people would rather not talk about — child incestuous abuse.
In her book, Camille Kouchner accuses Olivier Duhamel, a politician, of sexually abusing her twin brother when he was fourteen. But while La Familia Grande may be the linchpin of the #metooinceste movement, it serves as a catalyst to a long-standing problem that France has tried desperately to sweep under the rug.
A history of abuse
In November 2020, two months before the publication of the book, A poll by Ipsos estimated that one in ten French people were a victim of abuse. Of this, 78% were female and 22% were male. In 2020, the number of victims was a harrowing 6.7 million.
The reason these numbers are so high could be due to the age of consent in France, or the lack thereof. In France, rape is defined as “any act of sexual penetration, of whatever nature, committed on the person of another by violence, coercion, threat, or surprise.” There is no specific mention of minors. Until now, France has had no legal age of consent, meaning children as young as 11 could, theoretically, consent to having sex with a 28-year-old.
This is exactly what happened in April 2017, when a young 11-year-old girl was raped by a 28-year-old man she had met at the park. The mother of the victim said, “She thought … that she didn’t have the right to protest, that it wouldn’t make any difference.”
This story, among others like it, sparked a debate on France’s age of consent. This debate led the people to put pressure on the French government to put a legal limit on the age at which a child can consent.
“France is very individualistic. It’s each to its own and no one wants to talk about this,” says Homayra Sellier, founder of Innocence en Danger, “The judiciary isn’t trained to deal with the crime of incest and the impact it can have on a victim’s body and mind. It’s time to bring in the right laws.”
Incest in France, though a major issue, has always seemed like a taboo. It was something that has always existed behind closed doors. Even now, there is a mentality of “what happens in the family, stays in the family”. Family is supposed to protect us. To think that they can do something so awful is not a notion many people like to entertain. Many victims are afraid to speak out and others are dismissed because of this. The issue of child abuse and sexual abuse are complicated enough, with their own social stigmas, but putting them together creates a situation of fear and secrecy like no other.
Like the 11-year-old in the park, many children feel like they have no right to protest.
And like Camille Kouchner, many others feel as though this sort of abuse should stay a secret. As she said in her book when she was fourteen,
“I knew and said nothing.”
But now, she has finally said something. And with her courage, La Familia Grande has encouraged thousands more to speak up about their own experiences and end the secrecy that surrounds incestuous abuse.
Why the book matters
La Familia Grande is unfortunately not a special story among the millions of other stories about incestuous abuse in France.
It is, however, a story that got published.
It is a story about a boy who was sexually abused by his stepfather when he was only a 14-year-old. And it is also a story of how Olivier Duhamel, a political scientist and former Socialist MEP, sexually abused a minor with no repercussions whatsoever.
Kouchner doesn’t stop there, however. Kouchner makes it clear that Duhamel isn’t the only one she’s accusing — she’s accusing the entire system that made it possible for him to rape a fourteen-year-old and get away with it. In her book, she cites names of people who protected Duhamel, who knew of his crimes and said nothing.
“Everyone knew,” said Kouchner in an interview with France 5.
Even Kouchner’s mother Evelyne Pisier, a feminist who died in 2017, knew what was happening, but did not speak out to avoid scandal. It was an open secret, among family members and members of Duhamel’s inner circle.
But as brutal as that is, what is important is that the book finally made it to publication. That this specific story got told.
In reality, there are many stories of minors being abused, many stories about incestuous abuse, but none of them quite as high-profile as this one. Pisier had been right to worry about this news garnering media attention, and it’s good that it did. By the story being so high-profile, and the implications of a rapist being able to be in such a high position in French politics, it serves as both a wake-up call to the French people and their government.
France has always had a problem with incestuous abuse and sexual abuse of minors, and thanks to the book and more importantly, the national and international media attention the book got, they are finally dealing with it. Recently, the French government has decided to establish the age of consent at age 15. And while this may be too little too late for some victims of child sexual abuse, these changes are important. For children currently in situations where they are being abused or have experienced abuse, it is important for them to realise that they come forward with other victims and have their voices heard.
The #metoo movement and its French counterpart #NousToutes was an incredible moment in history, and it only continues to grow. The importance of this movement cannot go understated. For victims to unite and speak up, and for victims to feel safe enough to do so is the pinnacle of the movement. The #metooinceste movement specifically breaks down the barriers and secrecy surrounding incestuous abuse, promising a new era of justice.
In the wake of La Familia Grande, France must deal with the fallout of their own lax laws and societal stigma. But they also must learn from past mistakes and move forwards for the sake of the current victims, and for future generations.
The writer is a part of TDA Editorial Team.