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Mélissa Theuriau: "For a long time, cases of domestic violence were considered to be private"


Highlights: Every year, 160,000 children are sexually abused in France. One in ten French people said they had been a victim of incest. The Macron government founded the Independent Commission on Incest and Sexual Violence against Children (Ciivise) At its head, Édouard Durand, is respected for his commitment, his expertise and his keen sense of pedagogy. His first mission within the Ciivise? Collect testimonies from victims to break the silence. This has always been his credo: to listen and to make others heard.

The producer and magistrate Édouard Durand, co-president of the Ciivise, are involved in all the fights against violence against minors. They remind us of what is at stake in the fight against child crime.

The findings are damning. Every year, 160,000 children are sexually abused. In a recent Ipsos poll, one in ten French people said they had been a victim of incest. To prevent these crimes, protect and fight against the impunity of aggressors, the Macron government founded, in 2021, the Independent Commission on Incest and Sexual Violence against Children (Ciivise). At its head, Édouard Durand, is considered respected for his commitment, his expertise and his keen sense of pedagogy. His first mission within the Ciivise? Collect testimonies from victims to break the silence. This has always been his credo: to listen and to make others heard so that the fight against incest and violence becomes a social issue.

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Recently interviewed in Un silence si bruit, Emmanuelle Béart's shocking documentary, he was, as early as 2020, at the heart of the indispensable Bouche cousue (1), a film produced by Mélissa Theuriau that gave a voice to children who have suffered violence and to adults forever marked by this trauma. Three years later, the magistrate and the producer, whose latest film Babies placed (2) arrives on France 2, meet to take stock of the obstacles and advances of the fight that animates them.

Madame Figaro. – Can you tell us the exact circumstances of your meeting?

Mélissa Theuriau. – For Bouche cousue, which I produced with my company, 416 Prod, the director Karine Dusfour approached Édouard Durand, who was then working as a juvenile judge at the Bobigny High Court. It was a long journey to reach the agreements that gave us access to him and to the hearings of the children and their representatives in his office. But it was worth it: for the first time, the viewer can hear the child's word and how it should always be received. With seriousness and attention.

Édouard Durand.I almost turned down this film. I wanted everyone to be able to see what is going on in the secrecy of the juvenile judge's chambers, but I didn't want it to "objectify" or disturb children in extremely crucial and intense, often destabilizing moments. But I have a deep respect for the work of Mélissa and Karine: these children are respected and their words are fully restored.

Do you feel that the voice of the child is sufficiently heard today?

M. T. –That's the crux of the fight. The Child Protection Act 2007 reaffirmed that the best interests of the child should be at the heart of the system. Despite this, the child's voice is not raw enough and the justice system often continues to privilege the biological bond, regardless of a parent's failings, toxicity or insecurity that a child may feel within the home.

Mélissa Theuriau fights to put the child's word forward. Yann rabanier

E. D. – The child is still seen as an unbelievable human being, with a speech of inferior interest and unable to say what is happening "for real" at home. However, by accepting the mission of the Ciivise, by listening to the adults that these children who are victims of violence have become, I realized how appalling and destructive the fact of not having been heard can be.

How do we put ourselves at the level of a child, how do we welcome his words as they should?

E. D. – It must be taken seriously and its basic need for emotional, relational and emotional security must be taken into account. The way in which we respond to the call of a child victim of violence will build his or her relationship with the world: if we respond in a coherent and reassuring way, it is possible that the child will mobilize his or her energy to learn, grow and gradually acquire autonomy. But if the answer is random, negative, guilt-inducing, or if the child doesn't answer at all, the child will prefer not to call for help. Child victims of violence experience the situation as a matter of life and death. You have to understand the extent of the trauma, you have to imagine a 4-year-old child saying to his father who hits his pregnant mother: "Stop daddy, you're going to kill the baby."

M. T. –When you attend the meetings of the Ciivise, when you listen to the testimonies, what is striking is the omerta, the lack of listening. Out of fear, caregivers and potential protectors, for example, do not relay the violence they witness. Maybe they don't feel protected enough?

E. D. – In the vast majority of cases, referral professionals do nothing. The chain is broken instantly. Only 8% of children received positive social support. Only 8% heard, "I believe you, I'm protecting you." The central explanation is denial: we just don't want to see that it exists. The Ciivise has built a doctrine of training and awareness, but a doctor cannot be expected to report children at risk if he or she risks disciplinary action or legal action. The rules still favour aggressors too much, and this confusion is paralyzing. Only 5 per cent of reports of sexual violence against children come from the medical profession.

Édouard Durand makes child protection a daily struggle. Yann Rabanier

So there needs to be a reform?

E. D. –This is one of the first recommendations of the Ciivise: to clarify the legislation in favour of the obligation to report and to protect doctors from disciplinary proceedings. Today, it remains much less risky for them not to report than to report. If we want to protect children, we need a public policy with an exclusive objective: to fight impunity for sexual and domestic violence, and to protect the victims and the adults who are able to help them.

M. T. –The projected budget for child protection is expected to decrease by 20% in 2024. Can we believe that the recommendations of the Ciivise will be applied in this context?

E. D. –A society that does not provide itself with the means to protect child victims of violence is an immoral society. Moreover, the cost of the denial we were talking about is enormous: €10 billion per year. 60% of this amount relates to the long-term consequences: the suffering of these children once they become adults, sometimes driving them to suicide, and the immense social cost of impunity for aggressors.

M. T. –But it's not all a question of means...

E. D. –Indeed. Withdrawing parental authority from an incestuous or violent marital parent, indicted by an investigating judge or summoned to appear before the criminal court, does not cost a cent.

How can we explain that we still take the risk of maintaining the link between the child and his aggressor?

E. D. –Parental authority remains the supreme value in France. We can deprive a human being of his freedom, we can put him in prison even before he is found guilty, but interfering with parental authority is socially unbearable for us. It says something about our history and the marital and paternal power that has governed the family and society for centuries. We misunderstand the needs of the child by thinking that in order to feel safe, he needs to be with his or her parent(s) at all costs. Despite the violence, the fear, the lack of empathy. Even in foster care or in a nursery, a baby can remain in the grip of an abuser who terrorizes him because he is regularly forced into his arms. This psychic connection is devastating. We are surprised that a child is agitated, that he learns nothing, that he puts himself in danger, but how has his life been built when protective adults have made bad decisions?

M. T. –In a home where violence reigns, a child experiences a fear comparable to that of victims of terrorism. These are indelible traumas. Moreover, while both the mother and the father are on an equal footing in the eyes of the law that commits them to protect their children, in practice, the protective parent – often the mother – is deprived of her rights during an interminable investigation. The children are then placed in a home or, as is still regularly the case, with the aggressor.

Only 5 per cent of reports of sexual violence against children come from the medical profession

Édouard Durand

What are the tools of documentaries and narratives like La Familia grande, by Camille Kouchner, Vanessa Springora's Consent, or Andréa Bescond's Les chatouilles, in the realisation of awareness?

M. T. –Cases of domestic violence have long been considered to be private. However, it is by understanding that the problem must be taken collectively that a first step will be taken. Stories, when they have the strength of the recent Triste Tigre, by Neige Sinno, for example, can carry the voice of the victims. Those who submit their stories and share them through literature, fiction, documentaries or testimonies to the Ciivise may be better able to protect the little ones.

E. D. –The listening space that the Ciivise represents responds to a vital need for repair. In the majority of cases, child victims have suffered further annihilation when their words have fallen into the void. We give substance to this word, which helps to build a social movement. Christine Angot had said she would write about incest until society understood what it was. I agree. It is absolutely necessary to face this reality in order to move forward. As such, documentaries and narratives are crucial to ensure that there is no longer any possible diversion. However, the utmost rigour is required, especially with regard to certain fictions that can give the wrong signals.

M. T. –The power of fiction is incomparable, I would like to develop some around this subject, but it is a long way, because, indeed, one must not be counterproductive, complacent. In the documentaries we defend, we seek the authenticity of reality to allow us to lift a few blinders. But the fight is sometimes difficult: even if it travels, lives for the long term, can feed debates and serve as training courses, documentaries are the poor relation of television. Sometimes I have a lack of fighting spirit, I am sometimes physically and psychologically affected, but some guides allow me to put oil back in the engine. Édouard Durand is one of them.

The projected budget for child protection is expected to decrease by 20% in 2024

Mélissa Theuriau

Why did you decide to dedicate yourself professionally to child welfare?

M. T. – I had a pampered, privileged childhood, but I met young girls and boys who had already recorded far too much violence. I knew very quickly that I had to do something with my luck. At first I dreamed of being a children's judge, but I had neither the talent nor the self-sacrifice. I branched off into journalism and, as soon as I could, went behind the scenes where I felt I could be more useful.

E. D. –I, too, quickly understood that I wanted to choose a profession that would be a social commitment and that would allow me to really meet my peers. The psychological impact of this job is heavy, but I have a very precise memory of certain exchanges with young victims, who, after submitting their stories, were able to grow up in safety. There is also a lot of joy when working with children.

(1) Bouche cousue, November 22 at 23:35 p.m. on France 2. (2) Babies placed, November 15 at 22:30 p.m. on France 2.

Source: lefigaro

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