The French government this week launched a national awareness campaign on sexual violence against children. The brutal post is the first to specifically reference incest, which has long been a taboo subject in public debate.
Messages and videos will be posted on social media and placed in newspapers, on billboards and in cinemas. A television campaign will be broadcast during half-time of a France match during the ongoing Rugby World Cup.
It includes a video of a young girl describing how her attacker told her to keep “our little secret.”
Charlotte Caubel, the secretary of state for children, said she wanted a hard-hitting message like those used to prevent road deaths – one that would “hit our citizens in the gut”.
“This is the first time that the government has used the word ‘incest’ in a campaign, the first time that it has mentioned sexual violence within families,” she told AFP.
It is estimated that 160,000 children are victims of sexual abuse each year in France, while associations claim that one in ten adults in France have been victims of incest.
“That means you encounter people every day who have been victims of incest or who have committed incest,” Caubel said.
By the end of the campaign, “no one will be able to say ‘I didn’t know,'” she said: “This must become everyone’s fight.”
Every three minutes, a child is the victim of rape, incest or sexual assault. Around you, without knowing it, you know child victims, you know adult perpetrators. #Let’sBreakTheSilenceshare this campaign and call 119 if you have the slightest doubt. pic.twitter.com/DYljC8WhvT
– Charlotte Caubel (@CharlotteCaubel) September 12, 2023
In France, incest – defined as a person’s sexual relations with a parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, brother or half-sister – is legal when it occurs between consenting adults.
But in cases of rape or sexual abuse of a minor, courts generally extend prison sentences if the assault was also incestuous.
Break the silence
Several French filmmakers, writers and actors have recently spoken out against what they consider a taboo in France, where incest is often considered a private and family matter.
Well-known French actress Emmanuelle Beart was a victim of incest as a child, she revealed in a documentary broadcast on French channel M6 later this month.
Béart does not identify his attacker in the documentary titled “Un Silence Si Bruyant” (“Silence So Resounding”), which also includes the accounts of four other incest victims.
A drive to break the silence around incest has gained ground in 2021, sparked in part by the publication of an explosive memoir by lawyer Camille Kouchner in which she accused her father-in-law, the prominent French intellectual Olivier Duhamel, of raping his twin brother when they were teenagers.
The Independent Commission on Incest and Child Sexual Abuse (Ciivise) was established that year to formulate policies that could better protect children.
After interviewing 11,400 victims and 40 experts, he makes several recommendations to establish a “culture of protection” in France, including specific mechanisms allowing doctors to report warning signs, the obligation for judges to watch recordings testimonies from victims rather than reading transcripts, and better psychological support for victims.
Edouard Durand, judge and co-president of Ciivise, called the government’s new campaign “courageous” and praised it for not minimizing the suffering.
It is “crucial that, in this campaign, the government says that incest exists and that it is a public problem and not a private one”, he told AFP.
The French government has announced it will increase funding for groups helping abused children.
Parliament also began considering a bill that would strip anyone found guilty of child abuse of parental authority.