A children’s judge for seventeen years, sometimes nicknamed the “Guardian Angel of Young Children,” Edward Durand is a domestic violence figurehead. Co-chair of the Independent Commission on Incest and Sexual Violence Against Children (Ciivise), this expert explains the urgent need for progress to better protect victims and fight impunity for perpetrators. Interview.
Paris Match. Halfway through its tenure, the Independent Commission on Incest sounds the alarm: sexual violence against children is a reality on a large scale and society is losing victims…
Edward Durand. It can be estimated that 160,000 children suffer sexual violence each year, often within the family circle. At the other end of the chain, the number of convictions is very low, about a thousand. Between the two, more than 70% of the complaints were dismissed, just as in the case of domestic violence. Most of these children are invisible. The sexual violence they are subjected to, in particular incest, is the subject of a great lack of revelation. This means that victims are not listened to and that their suffering is less taken than the reality of it.
In sexual violence against children as in domestic violence, the aggressor’s strategy is the same.
This data reveals a system that allows abusers to go unpunished. What awareness do you expect from society today?
In sexual violence against children as in domestic violence, society must take its place entirely to say: This act is violent, and the law prohibits it. In this intimate violence, the aggressor always follows the same strategy: he chooses and isolates the victim, creates a climate of fear and terror, acts, reflects guilt, enforces silence, seeks allies, and ensures his impunity. Will the company and each professional act to frustrate or, conversely, to advance the aggressor’s strategy? This is where we have choice and progress.
That is the purpose of your committee which is now proposing, after a year of work, a protection strategy built on four pillars: identification of child victims, legal treatment of sexual violence, reparation, and prevention of such violence. What is the main objective of your recommendations?
I like that when reading our intermediate conclusions, everyone can position themselves at the height of the child. To be able to visualize the child as a victim of sexual violence and his or her journey in front of all protection professionals. Through the four primary axes, we trace a kind of path from protection to the child. When we realize that the aggressor imposes silence on his victim, the starting point for protection is not to wait with arms folded for the child to reveal violence, but rather to seek revelation to unleash any chain of protection. Once the victim is identified, including at the suspicion stage, the alert person must be protected from prosecution. Today, this risk is prevented by doctors who are only out of 5% of reports.
The National Medical Council has announced that it does not endorse your recommendations, given that professionals are already obligated to protect.
We make these two inseparable recommendations, a duty to report and protection from disciplinary action, without wanting to incriminate anyone. We are in the logic of protection and the rules must be clear. We cannot impose contradictory orders on doctors. When the child is in front of you, what is the line between the doubt and the certainty of sexual violence? We think that in both cases we have to use the protection mechanism. Moreover, we know that the abuser imposes silence on the child victim. When the professional is not reporting, what message is being sent to the child? That her doctor agree with the aggressor to remain silent? It is absolutely necessary to strengthen the protection of children and the protection of preventive doctors. This is the meaning of our recommendations.
The concept of patriarchal alienation negates in advance the reality of violence
Mothers who denounce paternal violence to protect their children also risk seeing justice turn against them. On social networks, in the media, and with your UNHCR, hundreds of them testify to desperate situations. When these mothers are suspected, most often in the context of separation, of alienating and manipulating their children to harm their husbands, they are found guilty of not representing the child or withdrawing guardianship in favor of the father…
The concept of “Parental Aversion Syndrome” (PAS) has not yet been recognized by the international scientific community, but it still creeps into the minds of professionals. It is tragic, dangerous and deeply unfair. She has decried it for several books, including in Defense of Children*. Anti-victimization concepts, such as that of SAP, nullify in advance any possibility of protection. Their job, and their influence anyway, is the pre-emptive denial of the reality of violence. I recently watched a TV show where Richard Gardner, the American psychiatrist who invented the pas, said bluntly: “If a child tells his mother that his father is raping him, the mother should hit him and tell him, ‘You don’t speak like that of your father.’” When he The child is a victim of incest, who will he say? To his mother! When the mother pleads with society, we answer her: We don’t want to know. This is a paradoxical court order: Mothers should protect your children, but don’t talk to us about incest, don’t talk to us about violence, we don’t want to know.
Is there no danger of false allegations in this matter?
Studies show that false accusations persist. We know we are not adequately protecting children. The danger is not that victims are inventing or over-interpreting what reveals acts of violence. The danger is to let child victims pass before our eyes, without our protection. This risk, and the company agrees to manage it. In a culture of protection, the child is not at risk.
How does it conflict with the rule of law to systematically withdraw parental authority from an incestuous parent?
Want mandatory legislation in the field of domestic violence (marital, sexual, incest). What do you say to those who consider it a dangerous path in terms of justice to compel judges?
The real danger is that we tolerate our basic principles which form a barrier between the child and protection. The danger lies in the tolerance of child rape, and that the home is a place of spousal violence, terrorism, and incest. It is not normal for our protection to depend on the professional in front of us. No democratic principle is designed to create a system of impunity for the aggressors. How does it contradict the rule of law to say that a violent husband should not exercise parental authority? It causes severe trauma to the child, attacks the relationship between mother and child, physical violence against the child in 40-60% of cases, and psychological violence in 100% of cases. How does it conflict with the principle of systematically withdrawing parental authority from an incestuous parent? How is this not the case? If society tolerates that this is not the case, then nothing will change. If society wants to protect children, it must be written into law, and the world will be better. It is injustice that confuses the world.
This is a serious crime, public order and public health issue.
Spain is often cited as a model in the fight against domestic violence, particularly with the establishment of specialized courts. How does France compare to its neighbors?
It must be said that we have made great progress in this law. From the union movements, at the end of the seventies, and the main legislative movements, from the first decade of the twenty-first century, in which succession of laws was part of the culture of protection, in a continuous and coherent way. Until the law of April 21, 2021, which sets an age below which coercion of an adult against a child is supposed to constitute acts of sexual violence. This is an example of mandatory legislation! With Ernestine Ronai, a pioneer in the fight against violence against women, we called this setting a minimum age, of five or six years. The temple guards opposed us on principles. We realize that the world did not collapse because we set this threshold because it is compatible with reason. With regard to Spain, I agree that the legal struggle against violence in the home, such as the care provided to victims, requires highly specialized. As for business law or organized crime. This is a serious crime, and it is an issue of public order and public health that requires specialization from all stakeholders. It is the strength of each link in the chain that ensures protection. Even if you have a specialized jurisdiction, you will need a trained teacher and a trained policeman… Progress is being made, but the question of training will always be a current and urgent question, never an acquired reality. It is for this particular reason that mandatory legislation is needed, because the guarantee of protection comes from the law.
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Emmanuel Macron, at the end of the discussion between the two rounds, declared: “Child protection will be at the heart of the next five years.” Do you think that children who have been subjected to violence are the greatest forgotten of Grenelle?
During the Grenelle period around domestic violence, children were taken into account during work groups and in laws that were passed. Let us quote in particular the suspension of the aggressor’s parental authority in the case of femicide. Since the August 3, 2018, law, the fact that a child witnesses domestic violence has become an aggravating circumstance of the crime, and the decree of November 23, 2021 confirms the child victimization by preferring to appoint a special official. But we have to go further than that, it’s true. This is possible. Child protection should be at the heart of all public policies for two reasons. First, because children are endangered beings and we owe them protection. The home, depending on whether it is a place of protection or a place of danger and violence, is the greatest source of inequality among human beings, especially in very early childhood, but also in adulthood. The experience of violence leads to the confusion of all existence, which leads to great suffering. Then, because the protection and education of children, in the sense of Hannah Arendt, ensures “the continuity of the world.”
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* “Defend the Children”, Edward Durand (Swell editor).