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The verdict is expected today in the case of two policemen in the 36 Quai des Orfèvres, who are accused of having raped a Canadian tourist. The trial has demonstrated, throughout the three weeks, how difficult it is to judge sexual crimes.

Translated Tuesday 5 March 2019, by Hannah Smith

Thursday, January 31st, 2019
Marie Barbier

After thirteen days of debate in the Assize Court, Paris, we have learned all about her; how she had suicidal thoughts at the age of 11, her sexual encounters with an American in the Jardins de Luxembourg, the DNA found 10cm into her vagina. Every day, Emily S., a 39-year-old Canadian, sits tall and upright on a wooden bench in the Assize Court in Paris, a few meters behind the two men she accuses of having raped her on an April night in 2014 in the headquarters of the Paris criminal police department. She did not cry, did not shout, responding tirelessly to the same questions: did she predict she would write a book about this story? Had she slept with her travelling partner? And with the American that she met in Paris? How much alcohol does she drink? Had she many previous sexual partners? No area of her life is spared. One of the defendants stated at the hearing, that he denies having wanted to go further than digital penetration because "something stopped (him), there was a strong smell, as if [her vagina] was not clean". An anatomical drawing was produced of the female genitalia, with the defence claiming that there was a lack of lesions in the area.

Credibility was questioned, and it became a "trial of the victim".

"The interrogation of a rape victim is violent in every sense" states Audrey Darsonville, a Law professor at the University of Lille. "Incrimination requires us to detail the intimacy of the plaintiff, as we must find out if she consented to sexual intercourse. But, too often, some judges and lawyers go beyond what is necessary to convict". Sophia Obadia claimed on Tuesday afternoon that there had been an "inversion of roles" and that the "victim was on trial". "What happened during this trial is monstrous," she says. "When your mobile phone or your handbag is stolen, you’re not asked how you were dressed. We are facing a defence which surpasses the rules of decency". "It is not for us to judge, but to assess the credibility of the plaintiff who was yesterday quizzed by Marion Gregoire, a lawyer for policeman Nicolas R., during his oral argument. It is in this way that we have asked questions".

Like the trials of former Secretary of State Georges Tron or of the Chartres lawyer Sidney Amiel, who were both also prosecuted for rape, the police officers of 36, Quai des Orfèvres, the trial included long hours of interrogation of the victim. According to our calculations, Emily S. spent more than eight hours at the helm of the Assize Court of Paris for the last three weeks being questioned. On the facts of course, but also on her past, her sex life, her consumption of alcohol. All these elements that would be swept away in Anglo-Saxon countries where the "rape shield laws" prohibit the questioning of unrelated matters such as the complainant’s sexual history. Originally established in the United States in the early years of 1970, these laws exist today in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Namibia and are part of the list of recommendations of the UN Center to End Violence against women.

These media orientated rape trials, with hearings over several weeks, are very well followed on social networks. Feminist activist Valérie Rey-Robert (under the name of Crepe Georgette on Twitter) and author of A Culture of French Rape, rebels against these hearings. "Rape culture aims to make rapists feel innocent, to make victims feel guilty and to make sexual violence invisible, affecting society as a whole, including those directly concerned by victim assistance: lawyers, juries, police officers, psychiatrists", she claims. You have to train these people to change their perception. To cite the example of the city of Lynwood, in Washington State (USA), the police are trained not to "interrogate" the complainant, but to "listen" to them, and not to measure their credibility by their behaviour. Some victims are traumatised, others stoic, that does not change the truth of their words.

Lauren Ignace, of the European Association Against Violence Towards Women at Work, advocated more widely of a "credit of good faith" for rape victims. "That means at all stages of the hearing, it is important to assume that what the plaintiff says is true. Only 6% of rape accusations are false and those are quickly dismissed. The United States and Canada have been using this "good faith credit" since 1990, and this has never hindered the rights of the defense, it’s just a must-have. "

Only 9% of rape victims file a police report.

Ms Obadia stated on Tuesday in the hearing that in France, to file a complaint for rape is to "suffer" and to start an "obstacle course". To go to the forensic medical units, to tell the facts, spread your legs and be examined" ... Before the criminal trial, this is first the test for the plaintiff (only 9% of the victims file a report, according to a parliamentary report of 2017). Two-thirds of these complaints will be dismissed by the prosecution for lack of evidence. Those who manage to get to the courthouse are all too often redirected to the correctional court, where the penalties are lower, and the trial is faster. This redirection of rape cases, mainly for budgetary reasons, has increased massively in recent years. It would affect between half and two thirds of the crimes. "Yes, the Assize Court is an extremely violent setting for rape victims, but less so than the correctional court," says Audrey Darsonville. Rape cases that are referred to the correctional court are tried in one hour, less than drug trafficking and purse theft. At the Assizes Court, where rape trials last on average two days, victims have time to express themselves."

Now begins a new test for plaintiffs. Everyone remembers the interrogation of Georges Tron’s secretary during a rape trial, in December 2017, where the president of the Assize Court of Bobigny asked her why she had "let herself loose".

"We magistrates are not well trained in the legacy issues", recognizes Anne-Laure Maduraud, former examining magistrate and children’s judge, and co-coordinator of the judicial journal, Délibérée. How does a traumatic event settle in the victim’s memory? In the collective unconscious? During a trial for rape, it is his word against her’s. I don’t like this idea that implies every statement is equal. A statement is analysed, objectified with other evidence.

Also, the duration of court proceedings adds to the plight of the plaintiffs. "Institutional violence will never be removed from the criminal trial," says Anne-Laure Madureau. But we could shorten the time. The average time between the initial report and a hearing is between twenty-eight and thirty months, it’s too long. One year would be a reasonable time to conduct an investigation and it would be a lot less painful". Emily S. will know today if the French legal system grants her the title of victim. "This is important for reconstruction and confidence in the justice system", said the Advocate General, Philippe Courroye yesterday. "By condemning the actions of the defendants, you are going to open a door for him, through which he may recover a little from his illness. "

Marie Barbier

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