French TV star scrutinized in book on sexual abuse, #MeToo


PARIS — “At a certain level of notoriety, no Frenchman has ever been convicted of sexual abuse.”

These words are taken from the book “L’impunité”, by Hélène Devynck, who says she was raped by the most famous television presenter in France.

Devynck is among dozens of women who have recently come forward to accuse Patrick Poivre d’Arvor of rape, sexual abuse or harassment from 1981 to 2018. His book, published last month, investigates the accusations against Poivre d’Arvor. ‘Arvor, denounces France’s historically lax attitude towards allegations of sexual abuse and wonders why the #MeToo movement in his country has had such a limited impact.

Poivre d’Arvor, who hosted France’s most popular news program for more than two decades and remains a revered figure, denies wrongful sexual acts and insists relations with his accusers were consensual.

Now 75 and retired, Poivre d’Arvor sued 16 of his accusers – including Devynck – and a French newspaper that reported on the allegations.

Most of the charges are now too old to prosecute, but French magistrates have opened an investigation looking into Poivre d’Arvor’s alleged abuse. French media reports that more than 20 women have filed legal complaints, although no charges have been brought.

In the United States, several high-profile sexual assault trials are unfolding across the country: movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Danny Masterson and filmmaker Paul Haggis are all facing #MeToo-related charges. All deny wrongdoing.

France, meanwhile, has seen no major figures prosecuted in the #MeToo era and has had a more strained relationship with the movement. Even as more and more people in France are mobilizing against sexual misconduct, the debate continues on the question of where seduction stops and sexual harassment and abuse begin, particularly in a context where the myth of the “French lover” remains popular and positively perceived.

The book by Devynck, 55, follows several recent accounts of women accusing Poivre d’Arvor in the French media.

Devynck said she was raped in 1993 by Poivre d’Arvor while working as an assistant for him at TF1, one of Europe’s leading broadcasters. At the time, Poivre d’Arvor attracted up to 10 million viewers each evening.

Poivre d’Arvor’s accusers told Devynck that his fame and power made it pointless to speak out when he abused them because they believed no one would believe them and it would ruin their careers.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Devynck said the purpose of his book “is to show how this impunity was built, forged, maintained. And since we have spoken… impunity continues.”

Accusations poured in after author Florence Porcel, now 39, filed a first complaint in February 2021 against Poivre d’Arvor, accusing him of raping her in 2004 and 2009.

The AP does not generally identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted, except when they identify themselves publicly.

Devynck said he spoke with about 60 women accusing Poivre d’Arvor of sexual misconduct while writing the book. Since posting, she said about 30 other women have made allegations against her. Not all have spoken to the police, she said, because some prefer to remain anonymous and avoid a long and difficult legal process.

A few of the women knew each other through work, but most did not know each other.

Poivre d’Arvor was the star presenter of TF1’s evening news “20 Heures” between 1987 and 2008 and one of the most famous personalities in France, where he is widely known as “PPDA”. Author, he also hosted a prestigious television literary program.

A few weeks after Porcel’s complaint, in his only interview on the allegations to date, Poivre d’Arvor acknowledged “little kisses on the neck, sometimes little compliments or sometimes charm or seduction” – things that he said are no longer accepted by younger generations.

“Never in my life, ever, have I accepted a relationship that would not be consensual,” he added, speaking on TMC, the TF1 group channel.

Devynck said she noticed strong similarities between the accounts of the women she spoke to.

“We all tell the same story, he used the same words. He started with: ‘Are you in a relationship? Are you faithful? And then he was doing the same moves and he had a very well-oiled process,” she told the AP.

Poivre d’Arvor used to offer women to watch “20 Heures” in the television studio and then invite them to his office, Devynck said. “Not all of them were raped. Some were abused, others harassed. But each time, everyone who speaks out says he tried (acts of a sexual nature),” she said. declared.

This is exactly what happened to her, she describes in her book.

“I remained silent. I did not speak while I worked at TF1. If I had spoken, it was the end of my professional life and I had absolutely no chance of having my voice heard,” she told the AP.

Devynck decided to go public with his story 28 years later. She complained to the police last year after seeing Poivre d’Arvor’s interview on French television, following Porcel’s complaint.

“The image that this man showed compared to what I knew of him was so false that the next day I called the investigators to give my testimony”, she recalls in her interview with the PA.

“I spoke up in defense of other women,” she added.

She argued in her book that the image of Poivre d’Arvor, often described as a charmer, helped protect him. Because he was known to try to woo a lot of women, people assumed all relationships were consensual, Devynck said.

Poivre d’Arvor’s lawyer, Jacqueline Laffont, declined to speak to the AP about the case. She referred to previous comments she made last year after Porcel’s case was initially closed following the preliminary investigation.

Closing the case without filing a complaint was “the only possible decision” after a “thorough investigation”, Laffont said at the time. She said Poivre d’Arvor was able to bring “evidence” in her defense showing that Porcel was “lying”.

Porcel then filed another complaint, leading a magistrate to reopen a judicial investigation. The Nanterre public prosecutor’s office indicated that several other accusations made more recently were associated with this investigation.

According to French government statistics, only 12% of alleged victims of rape or attempted rape file complaints — and only a small proportion of these cases go to trial.

The French Interior Ministry, however, said there was a 33% increase in 2021 in the number of sexual abuse complaints reported to the police, a trend it attributes in part to the #MeToo movement pushing women to publicize incidents from their past.

“Before #MeToo, women were even more afraid to say what was happening to them,” said Violaine de Filippis, a lawyer and women’s rights activist.

“So now to say, ‘No, it’s not supposed to be, it’s not normal, it’s illegal and it’s serious’ is very important,” she said.

She did not specifically refer to the case of Poivre d’Arvor.

French Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti last year sent a memo to prosecutors encouraging them to investigate sex abuse allegations even if they appear too old to prosecute. One goal, he said, is to find other potential victims; another is that magistrates can hear accused persons.

Devynck said she would like to see Poivre d’Arvor in a courtroom.

“I hope there will be a trial one day, but that, I don’t know,” she said.


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