Prominent French intellectual falls to accusations of incest

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Prominent French intellectual falls to accusations of incest
In this file photo taken on May 19, 2016, Olivier Duhamel, French political specialist and newly elected as the head of the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques (FNSP), poses at the Sciences Po school in Paris. Political scientist Olivier Duhamel announced on January 4, 2021, that he would be stepping down from all his functions, including that of president of the National Political Science Foundation (FNSP), after being accused of incest on one of his sons-in-law in a book to be published on January 7, 2021. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP.

by Roger Cohen

PARIS (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- In the latest of several scandals to test French attitudes toward sexual abuse of minors, a prominent political scientist, radio show host and television commentator has quit his media and university posts after being accused in a new book of committing incest with his teenage stepson more than 30 years ago.

Olivier Duhamel, a French public intellectual, said in a Twitter post Monday that he had decided to step down as a result of “personal attacks” against him, and out of a determination to “preserve the institutions in which I work.” These included the Sciences Po university, where Duhamel, 70, headed the body overseeing the renowned Paris institution.

Camille Kouchner, in a book called “La familia grande” to be published Thursday, said Duhamel persistently abused her twin brother, starting when he was 14, which would be considered incest under French law. In a statement to the daily Le Monde, the brother, who is identified in the book as “Victor,” said, “I confirm that what my sister has written about the actions of Olivier Duhamel toward me is correct.”

Addressing Duhamel directly in the book, excerpts from which appeared in Le Monde, Kouchner writes: “I am going to explain to you who sound off on the radio, you who offer the gift of your analysis to students, and strut about on TV stages. I am going to explain that you could, at least, have said sorry.”

Duhamel could not be reached for comment. He told the weekly magazine L’Obs: “I do not react, and I have nothing to say. Anything I might say would, in any event, be, I don’t know, distorted.”

Kouchner, a lawyer and lecturer, and her brother, whose full name has not been disclosed out of protective discretion, are the children of Bernard Kouchner, the co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, and of the late Évelyne Pisier, a writer who later married Duhamel.

Bernard Kouchner, a former French foreign minister, expressed his admiration for “the courage of my daughter Camille” and said through his lawyer that “a heavy secret that has weighed on us for too long has happily been lifted.”

The secret was indeed known for a long time — by Camille Kouchner, by her mother Pisier, by her older brother Julien, and by her father Bernard Kouchner, among others, Camille Kouchner writes. Part of the family’s difficulty in breaking the silence, she says, lay in trying to disentangle their love for Duhamel, and their fear for his fate, from the terrible reality of what he had done.

There was also a wider context. As several other cases have revealed recently, the taboos and cozy relationships preventing the disclosure of sexual abuse of minors are powerful, not least among a certain left-of-center Parisian intellectual and artistic elite raised on sexual liberation and the sanctity of the bedroom’s secrets.

Last year, Vanessa Springora, a publisher, accused Gabriel Matzneff, a prizewinning author, of abusing her when she was a minor. He had never hidden having sex with girls and boys in their teens but long enjoyed the complaisance of his literary entourage.

In 2019, Adèle Haenel, a movie star, accused a director, Christophe Ruggia, of sexually harassing her when she was in her teens. Haenel walked out of France’s César movie awards last year when director Roman Polanski, who is wanted in the United States for statutory rape involving a 13-year-old girl, won best director.

Camille Kouchner is frank about her anger toward this artistic world, centered, as she sees it, in fashionable left bank districts of Paris. “Very quickly,” she writes, “the microcosm of people in power, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, was informed. Many people knew and most pretended nothing had happened.” She continues, “This silence is not only cowardice. Some are delighted to be quiet. This obligation attests to their belonging to a certain world.”

It was unclear whom exactly she was referring to and she offered no proof.

Attitudes may be starting to change. The French public prosecutor immediately said he was opening an investigation into Duhamel for rape of a minor and sexual aggression. He said the investigation would examine whether the crimes Duhamel is accused of fall within France’s statute of limitations, and would also examine the possibility of other victims.

Sciences Po issued a statement condemning “all forms of sexualized violence” and declaring “its shock and astonishment” at the “very grave accusations brought against Olivier Duhamel, the former president of the board of trustees that administers Sciences Po.” In a message to donors it added, “The fight against sexual and gender-based violence is at the heart of our institution’s core values and actions.”

Duhamel also parted company with Europe 1, the radio station where he had a weekly show, and LCI, the television network where he was a regular political commentator. He deleted his Twitter account after announcing his resignations.

In the book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Camille Kouchner quotes her brother telling her at the time what Duhamel had done: “He came to my bed and said, ‘I will show you. You will see, everyone does that.’ He caressed me and then, you know.” Her brother, she writes, pleaded with her: “Respect this secret. I promised him, so you promise me. If you speak, I die.”

Camille Kouchner told Le Monde she could no longer keep quiet. The damage caused by the incestuous abuse was too corrosive. “I am uncomfortable with the word ‘victim’, because it imprisons and condemns my brother over and over. It’s hard to find the right term. I would say my brother is a survivor.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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