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Incest Scandal Sets Off a New #MeToo Movement in France

PARIS — The testimonies have surfaced by the hundreds. “I was 8, I was abused by my uncle,” read one post on Twitter. “My father, from 7 to 14 …

PARIS — The testimonies have surfaced by the hundreds.

“I was 8, I was abused by my uncle,” read one post on Twitter. “My father, from 7 to 14 years old,” another tweet said. “It was supposed to be a vacation, which quickly turned into a nightmare,” someone else posted.

A scandal involving a prominent French intellectual accused of sexually abusing his teenage stepson has prompted a wave of testimonies on social media from people in France who say they were also victims of incest, shedding light on what campaigners say is a major problem.

Just as the #Metoo movement gained momentum on social networks three years ago, France’s current reckoning on incest has been driven by a hashtag, #Metooinceste, under which some 20,000 tweets had been posted as of Monday afternoon. Hundreds of the posts were wrenching accounts from people who said they had been sexually abused as children by adult family members.

“Victims’ voices are getting louder,” said Patrick Loiseleur, the vice president of Facing Incest, a French organization that has advocated for better recognition of the extent of the issue.

French law defines incest as a sexual relationship between two people who are related to each other to a degree where marriage is prohibited, including between siblings or between stepparents and stepchildren. But French law criminalizes incest only in the case of sexual abuse, such as rape or a sexual relationship between an adult and a minor.

The deluge of testimonies on Twitter have come in the wake of the scandal surrounding Olivier Duhamel, a prominent political scientist and TV commentator, who was accused by his stepdaughter, Camille Kouchner, of having abused her twin brother, starting when he was 14. Such abuse would be considered incest under French law, even though the boy was Mr. Duhamel’s stepson.

In a book released 11 days ago, “La Familia Grande,” Ms. Kouchner recounts how Mr. Duhamel abused her brother at night before he went to bed for a period of about two to three years. She writes that her brother, who told her about the abuse, had asked her to keep “this secret.”

“Anger didn’t come right away,” Ms. Kouchner writes. “Misunderstanding persisted for a long time, followed by silence, for an even longer time.”

A study released in November by Facing Incest and the polling firm Ipsos revealed that one in 10 French people say they have been the victim of incest, a proportion that has increased over time as more people have felt emboldened to come forward. According to the polling firm, the proportion was 3 percent in 2009 and 6 percent in 2015.

Brigitte Macron, the French first lady, told TF1, a French TV station, on Sunday, “It is absolutely necessary that these actions are known, and that these actions are not silenced.”

Mr. Loiseleur said, “Incest is like the elephant in the room that nobody wants to see,” adding, “It is the most widespread form of sexual violence and the least talked about.”

Similar to the scandal around the pedophile writer Gabriel Matzneff, the allegations against Mr. Duhamel have caused a significant stir within the French establishment. Mr. Duhamel was a towering figure as the head of the governing board overseeing the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris and president of “Le Siècle,” an elite social club in the capital. Suspicions have grown over the past two weeks about who might have known about the accusations and kept silent.

Frédéric Mion, the director of Sciences Po, who according to the newspaper Le Monde had known about the allegations since 2018, has been under pressure from his students to step down. Élisabeth Guigou, a former justice minister and close friend of Mr. Duhamel, resigned last week as the head of a committee on sexual violence against children, but she said she had been unaware of the alleged abuse.

Mr. Loiseleur said incest needed to be identified “as a public health issue that requires significant resources.” His organization has long called on the authorities to make incest a specific crime, with no statute of limitations.

France recently extended the statute of limitations for rape against a minor to 30 years, from 20 years, and two bills that would create an age of consent for sexual relationships with a minor will soon be introduced for examination in Parliament.

French laws prohibit sex between an adult and a minor under the age of 15, but it is not automatically considered rape. Further circumstances, such as the use of coercion, threats, or violence, are necessary to characterize such sexual relationships as rape.

Alexandra Louis, a French lawmaker, said that she was working on a bill that would effectively criminalize incest and strengthen the criminalization of sexual relationships between an adult and a minor under the age of 15.

In many cases at the moment, she added, “Incest has no real consequences in terms of criminal punishment.”

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