New book reignites the debate on incest taboo

Camille Kouchner’s 'La Familia Grande' accuses a high-profile intellectual of incest with his stepchild, triggering a national debate over this taboo

28 January 2021
Camille Kouchner, whose father Bernard Kouchner co-founded Médecins Sans Frontières, grew up in a family of Parisian intellectuals who lived through the cultural revolution of May ’68
By Emilie King

Camille Kouchner’s La Familia Grande alleges her stepfather, academic Olivier Duhamel, sexually abused her twin brother when they were adolescents. It is helping to break the silence over sexual abuse within families.

Ms Kouchner further claims that the children’s mother, prominent feminist Evelyne Pisier, who died in 2017, knew about the incest but did not speak out to avoid scandal.

Ms Kouchner, whose father Bernard Kouchner co-founded Médecins Sans Frontières, grew up in a family of Parisian intellectuals who lived through the cultural revolution of May ’68.

Many have since become members of the French elite.

In the 1970s, several writers defended sex with minors, including Gabriel Matzneff, who openly mentions his sexual preferences in his writings. He is under investigation after a publisher recently accused him of abusing her when she was 14.

'Incest is a pandemic'

Homayra Sellier, founder of Innocence en Danger, an organisation that campaigns to protect children from abuse, said:“Incest is a pandemic. Of course, it happens everywhere but in other places, you don’t see people like Matzneff brag about it.

“It’s a remnant of May ’68 but also of the fact that every single government since has put these people in powerful positions and who have been able to protect themselves. Elsewhere, we wouldn’t promote such people to positions of power.”

A recent Ipsos poll suggests one in 10 people in France may be or have been victims of incest. Ms Kouchner’s book has acted as a catalyst for victims to speak out on social media using the hashtag #MetooInceste.

What Ms Sellier described as a “French culture of tolerance” over incest may in part also be influenced by French law, which has no age below which a child may not be alleged to have “consented” to sex.

It only has an age of sexual majority – 15 – below which an offence is committed if an adult has relations with the child.

Prosecutors must show that sex with someone under 15 was forced in order to press the most serious charges of rape.

The UK sets an age of consent at 16 and of statutory rape at 13.

There have been calls for reform for several years and the Senate has now adopted a law making sex with under-13s a new offence in which consent by the child is deemed impossible.

Former interior minister and head of the LREM group of MPs Christophe Castaner also spoke out recently in favour of tougher penalties for incest.

Association Face à l’Inceste is petitioning for an end to questions of consent in cases of incest with minors.

Ms Sellier wants an age of consent to be set at 15 and said: “France is very individualistic. It’s each to its own and no one wants to talk about this.

“The judiciary isn’t trained to deal with the crime of incest and the impact it can have on a victim’s body and mind. It’s time to bring in the right laws.”

Following the allegations, Mr Duhamel resigned from all his posts but has not confirmed or denied the claims. He is protected by the statute of limitations but an investigation is under way.
Ms Sellier said: “This case is going to change things. It is going to highlight the complicity of the elites. People are going to be less tolerant. There will be a before and after.”

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