PARIS – Rape allegations against a newly appointed minister disrupted the start of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term on Monday, with the allegations amid a growing backlash over sexism and sexual abuse by French political figures.
Two women have accused Damien Abad, the minister for solidarity and the disabled, of raping them in 2010 and 2011, according to Mediapart, a French investigative news outlet that last week published a lengthy article about the allegations, without naming any of the accusers.
Mr Abad, 42, has denied the allegations. The Times has not been able to independently verify the Mediapart report.
“I’ve never raped a woman in my life,” Mr Abad told reporters from France’s Ain department on Monday, where he is running for reelection in June’s parliamentary elections. “Should an innocent man resign? I do not think so.”
Mr Abad, who has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that limits his ability to move his joints, said in a statement that the acts he was accused of were implausible because he was not physically able to perform them and that he could have had sex without the “full and full consent” of a partner.
According to Mediapart, one of the women said that after a voluntary meeting, he refused to stop when asked, while the other said she blacked out after having a drink with him and woke up in a hotel room, her body aching. .
The government said it was not aware of the allegations before the Mediapart article, although an advocacy group said they reported one of the women’s experiences to the two political parties involved. Both political parties informed Mediapart that they had not seen the emailed letter.
The allegations overshadowed the first meeting of France’s newly appointed cabinet, raising the question of whether it has ignored warnings about Mr Abad and diverted attention from his efforts to deal with rising inflation just weeks before the election. control over parliament.
The allegations also led to long-standing accusations against Macron by feminist groups, who accuse him of failing to keep his vow to make crimes against women one of his top priorities. French feminists are especially angry that he has accused ministers in his government of sexist behavior or sexual violence.
“How many men charged with rape will we see appointed under this term?” That is what the Nous Toutes collective, an umbrella group of feminist associations, said on Sunday.
Sexism and sexual violence have become a growing problem in French politics. The Supreme Council for Gender Equality, an official watchdog, notes in an annual report that sexist comments by male politicians are still commonplace and that political parties have only just started setting up channels for victims to report.
“The political world has still not experienced a real #MeToo,” the council wrote.
Several candidates in the parliamentary elections have dropped out over past behavior or complaints – including a far-left politician and one from Macron’s La République en Marche party, who was defended by a top official as an “honest man” despite domestic violence conviction.
Olivia Grégoire, the new government spokeswoman, faced a barrage of questions about Mr Abad during her first post-cabinet press conference.
She said Élisabeth Borne, Macron’s new prime minister, had discussed the allegations with Abad over the weekend, that the government had a “zero tolerance” policy for sex offenders and that violence against women was “at the heart of the matter”. of his priorities.”
“The government will tirelessly continue to encourage the liberation of the speech of women and encourage women who have been victims of violence to come forward,” said Ms Grégoire.
But she added that Mr. Abad had never been convicted and there were no lawsuits pending against him.
“In this case, as is often the case in these cases, establishing the truth is at stake,” she said. “And establishing the truth is up to the justice system.”
Two of Macron’s top ministers — Gérald Darmanin and Éric Dupond-Moretti — had already sparked the ire of feminist groups when they were nominated in 2020. Both were reappointed last week.
Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti has been accused of making insensitive, sexist remarks, while Interior Minister Darmanin has faced rape allegations, although prosecutors in January recommended an investigation to stop at him.
The allegations against Mr Abad date back to 2010 and 2011, when he was a newly elected right-wing Member of the European Parliament.
Mediapart has not given the real names of both women. One of them, a 35-year-old who was a political activist, told the news station that she met Mr Abad at a rally in 2009 and that several months later he began communicating with her regularly, texting her persistently, some of which are rough.
She said she rejected his advances, but eventually met him in January 2011. They initially had consensual sex, but, she said, he refused to stop when asked.
The woman told Mediapart she first spoke to police in 2012, but the case was dropped after she was hesitant to press charges. She then filed an official complaint in 2017, but the investigation was closed less than a year later, according to Mediapart.
The second woman, 41, told Mediapart that she had met Mr Abad at a wedding in northern France and had kept in touch with him for professional reasons. In 2010 he invited her for dinner and drinks in Paris. She told Mediapart that Mr. Abad offered her a glass of champagne and that she blacked out after drinking it.
She later woke up in a nearby hotel room, “in a state of shock and deep disgust”, feeling dizzy, her body aching, according to Mediapart. She quickly left and told people close to her about her experience, but made no complaint.
But when she saw news reports a few weeks ago that Mr Abad was expected to join Mr Macron’s new government, she decided to write about her experience in a letter to the Observatory for Sexual and Sexist Violence in Politicsan advocacy group founded in February after nearly 300 women working in politics called on political parties and institutions to consider sexual violence in their midst.
The woman’s May 13 letter was forwarded to La République en Marche, and Les Républicains, the conservative party to which Mr Abad belonged – he was the head of lawmakers in the House until Mr Macron poached him for his cabinet.
Mr Abad has admitted to having a consensual relationship with the woman who filed the 2017 complaint but has denied all other allegations. Top politicians and officials have said they were not aware of the allegations until Mediapart reported them on Saturday.
But since then, reports have suggested that it was an open secret among some members of Les Républicains that Mr Abad had a reputation for behaving inappropriately towards women around him.
Aurélien Pradié, the secretary general of Les Républicains, told Mediapart that Mr Abad “always had a strange attitude towards women” and that several party officials were aware of the 2017 complaint but did nothing.
Fiona Texeire, co-founder of the Observatory on Sexual and Sexist Violence in Politics, said some women are leaving politics “because it’s not an environment where you can work in complete safety”.
“It’s an environment that remains extremely masculine in its practices and in its functioning,” she said, adding that it was sometimes difficult for women in politics to back down against the abuse of power, as they might worry about it being tarnished. of goals or parties. They also face the same struggles other women face with the legal system — about nine out of 10 women who experience rape never file a lawsuit, according to official French statistics.
That made it all the more important for the government to be exemplary, she said.
“If we want things to change in French society in terms of sexual violence, the best example has to come from above,” she said.