The Impact of #MeToo in France: An Interview with Lénaïg Bredoux | by Aida Alami | NYR Daily

The Impact of #MeToo in France: An Interview with Lénaïg Bredoux | by Aida Alami | NYR Daily

Hermance TriayLénaïg Bredoux, 2011

In 2011, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was arrested in a Manhattan hotel on rape charges, Lénaïg Bredoux, a Paris-based reporter, watched the reporting in dismay. At the time, the French media largely devoted itself to criticizing the American judicial system instead of investigating allegations that had dogged Strauss-Kahn for years. Moved to action, she contacted the French journalist Tristane Banon, who, in 2007, publicly accused him of sexually assaulting her in 2003 and that is how Bredoux uncovered a culture of silence inside the French Socialist Party.

Since then, Bredoux, who is now the chief political correspondent for the independent news organization Mediapart, has covered sexual misconduct allegations against politicians and other prominent figures, including the director and screenwriter Luc Besson. (Besson, who has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by nine women, has denied the allegations.) Bredoux has thus become the French equivalent of The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow for her work uncovering MeToo offenders—except that in the US, alongside Farrow, there are legions of women journalists who have pursued stories about sexual harassment and men’s abuse of their professional status and power, whereas, in France, Bredoux is almost a unique figure.

Last month, Bredoux was forced to defend the accuracy of her reporting in court. In 2016, she wrote a series of stories describing several women politicians’ accounts of being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted by the then deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Denis Baupin. The politician denied the allegations, which ranged from lewd text messages to groping, but nonetheless resigned from his position. He then filed a defamation lawsuit, which led to the prosecution of six accusers and two news outlets, Mediapart and the radio station France Inter.

On the stand in a Paris courtroom, the six accusers each in turn explained how they were afraid to report Baupin’s behavior because they thought it would hurt their careers. Cécile Duflot, a prominent member of the Green Party (known in French as Europe Écologie Les Verts), shed tears as she related how she had been assaulted by Baupin years earlier but had never reported it. She had even advised another woman not to report her harassment by another man, she confessed, because she felt she should protect the party concerned.

The trial has split French society along now-familiar lines, as one side defended sexual liberty and the other called for the condemnation of behavior that has harmed so many women and their careers. On the final day of the hearings, Bredoux and her colleagues wept as Baupin’s accusers told the judge that they had submitted their lives to the glare of the media because they hoped, finally, to be believed. “We must remain vigilant,” Geneviève Zdrojewski, a retired civil servant who had worked as an aide to a senior political leader, said. “There is always a risk of going backwards. It’s the media’s role to protect us.”

In her closing arguments, the prosecutor pleaded for the acquittal of the journalists and the six women. She believed that the reporting was thorough and that the women “sincerely related what they have subjectively experienced.” A verdict will be delivered in a few weeks. In the meantime, it is clear that something has changed in France. The media no longer dismisses the words of women who speak out. It also seems that the country is experiencing a delayed, but very necessary, national reckoning with the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

As the trial ended, Bredoux and I met for coffee to discuss her work, her feelings about having to defend it in court, and what motivates her to investigate powerful men accused of sexual misconduct. The following interview was translated from French and edited for concision.

Aida Alami: What did you think of the MeToo movement ?

Lénaïg Bredoux: I thought it was wonderful. When we first ran the Denis Baupin investigation, I received dozens and dozens of messages. Family members and friends started telling me about how they were themselves victims of sexual violence. For a long time, sexual violence was considered a private matter, and the choice of the expression “MeToo” was extremely appropriate. During many of my investigations, one of the first things a woman says to me is “me, too.”

How do you evaluate the influence of MeToo on France?

It is enormous. The balance of power has changed. People can no longer minimize these issues. During the Baupin trial, the effect was evident. There are words that can’t be used anymore. His defense said that he was an obnoxious seducer but that he wasn’t violent. But the media have covered the trial in ways that I didn’t expect. For instance, text messages by the women who accused him were presented in court. The…

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