Is France ready to break taboos? New incest scandal rocks tradition of silence

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Just as social media or the tabloid press are the usual channels for breaking sex scandals involving prominent figures in other countries, in France the preferred medium is books.

This time the scandal shaking the French literary and political elite – bringing down a prominent intellectual figure with accusations of incest and the silence surrounding him – began with La Familia Grande (The Big Family), a book written by Camille Kouchner, a prestigious lawyer and academic.

Just published, the book “is not just the story of incest,” notes Point. “It’s not just the story of a secret, a lie, an omerta.”

“By denouncing the crime of her father-in-law Olivier Duhamel, Camille Kouchner also paints a disturbing portrait of an environment. ”

Kouchner accuses the influential Olivier Duhamel, one of the most prestigious political scientists, academics and media figures in France – and who resigned from his various positions last week – of having sexually abused his stepson (his twin brother) , “Victor” (not his real name), when they were teenagers.

Silence above all

Victor and Camille are the children of Bernard Kouchner, another well-known French public figure, co-founder of Médecins sans frontières and former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and of Evelyne Pisier, deceased in 2017 and academic, writer, political scientist and sister . by actress Marie-France Pisier.

Kouchner and Pisier were divorced and Evelyne was married to Duhamel.

The facts, according to the book, took place at the end of the 1980s, when Evelyne Pisier felt alcoholism and depression after successive suicides by her parents.

Camille Kouchner writes that she was aware of the abuse because her brother confided in her very early on. But she, along with her mother, father, aunt and many others around them, remained silent – granting, as she writes, “a kind of ‘consent’ to the crime and becoming an accomplice.

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Incest, secrets and consent

For The world, who, with Le Nouvel Observateur, serialized the book: “Incest cases are all about silence and omerta. This is a series of interlocking silences. We are at the end of the 80s. In a family of Parisian intellectuals, a 13-year-old boy sees his stepfather, a renowned academic, invite himself into his room in the evening. He confides this secret to his twin sister, Camille.

Incest, a crime these teens have yet to name, lasts at least two years. Twenty years later, when they have each reached their thirties, the young woman urges her brother to finally confide this buried suffering to their mother. But she decides to protect her husband and remains silent, like the friends of the couple, eminent personalities anxious to avoid any scandal.

Complicity and silence are not new The big family. A year ago, France was shaken by the publication of The consent about Gabriel Matzneff, a well-known author and admired figure in the French literary elite, and the revelation by Vanessa Springora, another prominent writer and editor, that she was groomed in a damaging relationship from the age of 14 with the acclaimed author who was then 50 years old.

Celebration of pedophilia

The writer Matzneff, now 83, once celebrated by the Parisian intelligentsia, found himself ostracized not only by the revelations of the book, but also for his writings on the seduction of adolescents – which he did not hidden and for which he was celebrated.

He is now the subject of an official investigation for pedophilia.

The debate that began then as to who is most to blame, the perpetrators or the environment of appeasement and moral laxity in which they operate, has now been revived with the “Duhamel affair”.

Both books are the authors’ efforts to break free from the secrecy that tends to surround these taboo subjects.

“I am not revealing anything in this book”, writes Camille Kouchner, lawyer. She has a simple formula for the “pact of silence” between family and friends who have been asked not to say anything: “Everyone knows”.

Duhamel began sexually abusing her brother in 1988 when he was 13, she writes, telling him “everyone does this”.

“Everything is said, nothing is explained,” writes Kouchner. And Point adds: “You have to admit everything and understand everything, avoid moral judgments like the plague, never show sorrow or trouble. When the grandparents commit suicide. When the mother separates from the father, Bernard Kouchner, the latter fully enters a world of power and image with his new wife, Christine Ockrent. When the evenings of Sanary (the state of the family), take a bad turn. When Olivier Duhamel becomes master in his kingdom.

France and sexual tolerance

“In France”, says RTL in a recent editorial, “pedophilia has long enjoyed relative tolerance”.

He continues that “pedophilia unfortunately affects all circles: the family, the Church, education, sport” and that after May 1968, “the intellectuals even justified it in the name of the sexual revolution. After releasing the woman, the child had to be released, “awakening his sexuality”. ”

In the 1970s, several writers openly defended pedophilia, including Matzneff (of Consent) with his book The Under 16s, but also other famous authors such as Tony Duvert and Guy Hocquenghem.

RTL reminds readers that in 1977, “many personalities on the left signed a petition in The world to support those accused of having had sex with 13 and 14 year old teenagers. At the same time, intellectuals, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, signed a manifesto calling for the repeal of the law on sexual majority and the decriminalization of any relationship between adults and minors under the age of 15. .

“Beyond incest, the book describes a world of alternative truths and contradictory injunctions, an environment which contemplates itself, which watches itself live and admires with great complacency its supposed impertinence and its supposed freedom”, writes Point.

La Familia Grande is “the latest of several scandals to test French attitudes towards child sexual abuse,” writes the New York Times. The list includes several pedophilia and other sexual abuse scandals that began to emerge in France with the international scandal surrounding the CEO of the International Money Fund and French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn for his sexual assault on a woman. room in a New York hotel in 2011.

Le Financial Times also includes in the list “Jean-Luc Brunel, 74, former boss of the French modeling agency and partner of the late sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was arrested last month and is under investigation for “rape of a minor”. over 15 years and sexual harassment. ”

Literary disclosure

In the tradition of literary disclosure, France 24 includes other books that “had already broken this taboo on incest”:

In 2004, the actress Catherine Allégret in A world upside down described the touching of a child and the attempted rape by her “abusive” stepfather Yves Montand. The book and its author have been criticized for accusing a dead man who could not defend himself.

Earlier, in 1995, Claude Ponti, author of children’s books, spoke in Les Pieds Bleues of the sexual abuse of which he had been the victim in his childhood by his grandfather.

Finally, Christine Angot made the rapes committed by her father the subject of two very controversial novels, “L’Inceste” (1999) and “Un amour impossible” (2015).

According to France Info, incest remains a largely unknown reality in French society. “One in 20 adults in our circle has suffered intrafamily sexual violence in their childhood,” sociologist Alice Debauche of the University of Strasbourg and research associate at the National Institute for Demographic Studies told the radio.

“This silence has a social function. It is about preserving the fable of a well-functioning family and the illusion of the family as a source of development and protection of individuals. France discovered incest in the mid-1980s with highly publicized accounts, but 35 years later this reality is still surprising.

With his book, Kouchner not only once again broke the incest taboo but launched an investigation for “rape and sexual assault by a person in a position of authority” by Paris prosecutors against Duhamel, now aged 70 years.

For L’Express, La Familia Grande “is not a whistleblower destined to deliver the author’s father-in-law… to popular revenge, but a first book, impressive in its mastery and depth, with impeccable style. Camille Kouchner, 45, lecturer in law, produced here a literary work, a fascinating fresco of a family history as exceptional (by its protagonists) as sadly banal (by its consequences).

“I chose to write because I couldn’t shut up anymore,” Kouchner said. “This book was born out of necessity: to bear witness to incest, to show that it has lasted for years and that it is very, very difficult to break the silence. I did not write it in my brother’s name, but for the sisters, nieces, all those affected by incest. Omerta in a family weighs on everyone.

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