France: A Licence to Rape?
A lenient gang-rape verdict has prompted outcry and a debate on Franceâs inadequate response to rape. The French mediaâs ambivalence towards rape victims also needs to be examined.
There seems to be a feminist revival in France. The promise made by FranĂ§ois Hollande during the presidential campaign that his new government would be 50 per cent female has been kept. The ministry of justice led by Christiane Taubira has been quick to submit a new anti-harassment law, responding to the cancellation of the existing law under Sarkozyâs mandate, which caused all ongoing harassment cases to be dropped. Also, for the first time since 1986, the country has a ministry of womenâs rights, run by 35 year-old Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, also spokesperson to the government, who is keen to abolish prostitution. French feminist organisations, like Osez le fĂ©minisme! (Dare Feminism!), created in 2009, are going strong - one of OLF founders is even an adviser to Vallaud-Belkacem - and feminist magazine Causette, also three years old, is proving to be serious competition in the realm of womenâs magazines.
In such a context, what is now known as the âCrĂ©teil verdictâ was met with considerable incomprehension and anger. Hereâs a quick summary of the events that led to it.
- Nina and StĂ©phanie*, now in their late twenties, claim that when they were 15 and 16 they were repeatedly raped by a group of boys in the âcitĂ©â where they lived (a housing estate in the Parisian suburb of Fontenay-sous-Bois). The facts they narrate are not part of an isolated crime, but of long-term sexual enslavement. They recall being dragged to basements or empty staircases while boys queued up to rape them. This happened, they say, almost everyday for six months in 1999. They pressed charges in 2005.