With data showing a shockingly high rate of familial child sexual abuse, the French government has come under intense pressure to toughen legal sanctions against incest perpetrators.
On Tuesday, the French government launched a major campaign to tackle incest and sexual violence suffered by 160,000 children every year.
Local television is set to also show a documentary and fiction film on this long-taboo subject.
According to French Secretary of State for Children Charlotte Caubel, the campaign – the first of its kind in France – “talks about the figures – a child is sexually assaulted every three minutes – and highlights the trauma: these are acts that destroy children.
“This is the first time a government has used the word ‘incest’ in a campaign, the first time it has talked about sexual violence within the family”, she said.
This nationwide campaign, which starts on Tuesday on social networks and in the media before appearing in public places and cinemas, was recommended by the Independent Commission on Incest and Sexual Violence against Children (Ciivise), which was involved in its design.
On Tuesday, Caubel paid a visit to the national helpline, 119-Enfance, accompanied by government spokesman Olivier Véran and actress Muriel Robin, who is starring in a film about incest, ‘Les yeux grands fermés’, to be shown on TF1 in October.
On 24 September, M6 will broadcast a documentary by actress Emmanuelle Béart, which gives a voice to adults – including herself – who were victims of incest as children.
Entitled ‘Such a Resounding Silence’, Béart’s film does not name her abuser, though the ‘Mission: Impossible’ actress has made clear it was not her father, saying her parents and friends “didn’t notice” what was going on until her grandmother “saved” her.
Out in the open
“This is a courageous campaign, which does not seek to minimise the reality, the fear or the suffering of a child”, commented Judge Edouard Durand, co-chairman of the Ciivise, whose new interim report is expected shortly.
“It’s vital that, through this campaign, the government says ‘incest exists’ and ‘it’s a public problem, not a private one'”, added the co-chairman of Ciivise. “The temptation for everyone is to say ‘it’s none of my business, I don’t want to meddle in other people’s affairs'”.
The last government campaign on paedophile crime dates back to 2002 and did not mention incest.
Civiise’s research has made a major impact on French politics, with the government taking action to impose more punitive measures against parents who commit incestuous abuse, while strengthening support for child victims.
Among the initiatives to improve the situation are paediatric “reception and listening units”, which will bring together doctors, psychologists and trained investigators to decide on how children who have suffered abuse can be treated and protected.
“According to the associations, one adult in ten has experienced incest, which means that every day you come across people who have experienced incest and others who have committed it”, said the Secretary of State for Children.
“By the end of the autumn, no one should be able to say ‘I didn’t know, I wasn’t aware of the extent of these acts or the trauma they cause’. This must become everyone’s battle.”