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A proudly feminist lawyer takes a lead role fighting sexual violence in France

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A proudly feminist lawyer takes a lead role fighting sexual violence in France

PARIS — The law was no longer on her facet, nonetheless Elodie Tuaillon-Hibon did no longer hesitate to say yes when girls folk started seeking her abet in late 2017.

What they obligatory: anyone to pursue their complaints of sexual assault against excessive-profile figures such as actor Gérard Depardieu and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. Honest as important: anyone who would understand their pain.

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“I am a feminist,” Tuaillon-Hibon told herself. “I will handle these cases differently.”

With that, the reserved, soft-spoken lawyer stepped into a harsh highlight. The roles of intercourse, vitality and consent have long been blurred in France’s patriarchal society, with harassment repeatedly considered more as seduction. Prominent girls folk such as actress Catherine Deneuve have faulted the country’s #MeToo motion — known as #Balancetonporc, which translates to “squeal in your pig” — as indecent and harmful.

But Tuaillon-Hibon, 46, has pushed forward. She gained her first ample appeal last month, a case in which mature authorities minister Georges Tron was accused of forcing two female staff to let him massage their toes and later sexually assaulting them. Tron was initially cleared in 2018. The appeals court docket reversed the ruling, saying the “seriousness of the accusations” merited a conviction, and handed down a 5-year sentence for rape and sexual assault.

“The dispute is, there are so many Trons in France,” Tuaillon-Hibon said in early March.

Among them, she believes, is 72-year-mature Depardieu. Her consumer is an actress in her 20s whose name hasn’t been made public. The young woman alleges that Depardieu raped her at his Paris house in the summer season of 2018 — a case that also was first dropped, then reopened after Tuaillon-Hibon pressed to have the proof reexamined. Charges against Depardieu have been filed in December.

It’s the same situation with Darmanin, who in 2009 allegedly raped a woman named Sophie Patterson-Spatz when he served on the municipal council of a small town in northern France. Patterson-Spatz said Darmanin compelled her to have intercourse in exchange for assisting her with a legal matter. The case was pushed aside in 2018, nonetheless Tuaillon-Hibon succeeded in getting it resurrected last June. Honest weeks later, Darmanin was named interior minister and place in charge of the national police — the facility handling his investigation.

The probe has no longer concluded, and French President Emmanuel Macron continues to protect his appointment.

“We hope these ample cases act as a catalyst for other girls folk to take the French justice machine into their very absorb hands,” said Marilyn Baldeck, general director of the European Association Against Violence Against Females at Work. She describes the lawyer as a determined fighter willing to accept the toughest cases.

Tuaillon-Hibon took a circuitous path to bag to this point, growing up in a small rural neighborhood in northern France and a “traditional” household the place education was essential nonetheless thinking out of the box was no longer encouraged. She stumbled on an escape in books, devouring the works of Marcel Proust, Charles Baudelaire and other loved French writers.

Law was no longer on her mind until she was in her late 20s. Stuck in a rut without a career path, she called up an mature pal asking for advice. The pal was in law faculty. “It’s actually really interesting,” she told Tuaillon-Hibon. “You ought to silent join me.”

So she did. After spending her first decade working in corporate law, she decided to transition to labor law in 2012 and opened her absorb small practice. One day, a consumer came in asking for abet in filing a sexual harassment complaint against her boss. That was a unusual area for Tuaillon-Hibon. She contacted Baldeck, whose association helps victims pursue such action.

The 2 teamed on the case, and the trip ultimately pivoted her career.

“It was treasure anyone had lifted a curtain,” she said. “All the sudden, girls folk from the north, south, east and west have been coming to me with complaints of sexual abuse against mayors, metropolis councilors and other prominent figures.”

Holding perpetrators to account remains extraordinarily complicated in France.

By some measures, handiest 1 p.c of individuals charged with sexual violence are ever convicted. Below the country’s penal code, charging anyone with rape requires proof of “violence, coercion, threat or surprise.”

“Most victims are no longer honest true victims” given that threshold, Tuaillon-Hibon said. “It’s very rare that a rape happens treasure that, even with violence.”

By way of workplace points, the numbers are equally discouraging. In a 2018 national ballot, 1 in 3 French girls folk said they had been sexually harassed at work. Nearly 1 in 10 said they’d been pressured to have intercourse with a boss in exchange for a promotion. But the rates of reporting are alarmingly low, with Interior Ministry figures showing that handiest about 20 p.c of victims file complaints.

Tuaillon-Hibon cites American lawyer Gloria Allred as one in all her heroes. But Allred, who has represented girls folk in cases involving Donald Trump, Bill Cosby and other celebrities, seems to relish the glare of publicity. Tuaillon-Hibon is wary of media attention.

“France has a dispute with activist lawyers,” she said. “You can’t have a cause. You can’t be engaged.”

Her activism, on the opposite hand, is exactly why dozens of ladies folk have sought her out. That and her embrace of what in France continues to be a controversial word, especially in the legal career: feminist.

“You venerable to have girls folk choosing any lawyer, no matter what he or she belief about girls folk,” said longtime feminist activist Alice Coffin, a member of the Paris City Council who last year pushed for the resignation of a deputy mayor embroiled in sexual abuse controversies. “But I think it’s varied for the victims today. They want to know they have a feminist on their facet.”

As to why more girls folk are stepping forward now, it may be a designate of the instances. After a late start, France is in the midst of what’s being described as a 2nd #MeToo wave. The primary one targeted extremely effective men generally. This one is centered principally on cramped one sexual abuse and incest. Each involve public confrontations of the alleged aggressors.

Some men, including Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti, criticize the motion as going too far. Momentum is building, although.

Whereas the country prohibits sexual relations between an adult and a minor beneath the age of 15, it has no minimum age of consent. The authorities said last month that it may “act fast” to amend statutes so that an adult who engages in intercourse with anyone youthful than 15 would be charged with rape. The announcement came a day ahead of France’s very top appeals court docket regarded as the case of three firefighters who acknowledge having intercourse with a critically terrorized 13-year-mature. Charges may be expanded to 17 other firefighters.

Tuaillon-Hibon hopes her work will encourage more changes to the legal code that will make it easier for victims to arrive forward. Even now, girls folk who speak out repeatedly risk their jobs and more.

“Most of them, especially those living in small cities, halt up having to transfer because in case you contact political individuals, your existence true turns into very no longer seemingly,” she said.

There’s so considerable progress but to be made, in her watch. One in every of the largest challenges shall be unraveling the “prehistoric” ideas many French silent have about what girls folk mean if they say no to intercourse.

“I pray for a third wave of #MeToo,” she confused out. “And I’m going to work for it.”

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A proudly feminist lawyer takes a lead role fighting sexual violence in France