Clémentine Autain: « We are a political movement, not a court »

Since the legislative elections, rebellious France has faced two alleged cases relating to acts of sexual or gender-based violence (VSS). MP Clémentine Autain, strongly committed to her questions, returns to Humanity on the internal procedures of the movement, their limits and the treatment of GBV in politics by the media.

With the reshuffle, Damien Abad was not reappointed, but Gérald Darmanin is still minister. What’s your reaction ?

Pressure from feminist movements and public opinion led to Mr. Abad’s ousting. Emmanuel Macron should have immediately separated from a minister accused of rape with drug use by several women, taking responsibility, as soon as the facts were substantiated in the press. Especially when he claims that the fight against violence against women will be the great cause of the quinquennium! The proof that we are far from it: Gérald Darmanin was reinforced and even promoted with the reshuffle. What emerges from one of the two complaints concerning him is that there was indeed an exchange of a sexual relationship for social housing. That a Minister of the Interior with such behavior keeps the confidence of Macron and Borne leaves a bitter taste… Especially since we are talking about the ministry which is supposed to train police officers in the management of gender-based violence and sexual (VSS)…

Have we made progress in dealing with this violence since MeToo?

We made a leap with MeToo but I fear that we are now in the « backlash », the famous backlash. Each period of women’s emancipation is followed by a wave of reaction. I have the feeling that we are tipping over, at the moment where we are, in this phase of reaction. The audience enjoyed by Eric Zemmour, whose remarks are of incredible misogyny, testifies to this. His speech advocating the return to the past, like that of the whole of the far right, has been trivialized. I also hear a little music going up which questions “are we not going too far in feminism? », « it is becoming the inquisition », etc.

I would add that the violence expressed against personalities like Sandrine Rousseau or myself, who are trying to take charge of the fight against sexual violence, says something about the moment. I experienced it on BFM at the time of the Bouhafs affair: for thirty minutes, it was I who was as if indicted when I had just, with the FI, taken the decision to oust a man accused of violence sexual. We feel like we are being sued. Not only is the word of the victims not respected, but that of the women who deal with these issues either. I call on feminists to take full measure of what this charge against us means.

Can the fight against sexual violence be one of the grounds for consensus in the Assembly with the majority?

Under the previous mandate, we did not succeed. The law that was proposed in 2018 was miserable. We are still waiting for the famous billion euros for the fight against GBV. And we risk waiting for it again since the Prime Minister mentioned in her speech the desire to go back below the 3% deficit, and therefore to reduce public spending. If it is a question of tightening the law even more, even at the risk of undermining the foundations of our rights and freedoms, but without increasing the means, it is useless since justice does not apply in practice.

The IF’s GBV monitoring committee was at the center of the news. What led to its creation and how does it work?

As part of the MeToo wave, we wanted to take our responsibilities to fight against violence against women within our movement. We want both to protect the victims, to listen to them, to prevent violent men from harming the IF, but also to bring our feminist principles into line with our practices. The unit set up allows women to testify with a confidentiality clause. Only two people have access to the testimonies. The women are received and listened to, a report is drawn up and submitted to an ethics committee which then decides on any sanctions.

One of the two women who receive the victims is MP Sarah Legrain. Activists demand that this body be independent and not controlled by party executives. Isn’t there a risk that this committee will be used to cover up cases?

I totally hear the argument. We need to think about how to improve this care which is not perfect. We are in an experimental setting, this committee is something new. I also remind you that we are a political movement, not a court of justice. So these are internal operating rules. What body that would be completely external could therefore manage the rules that govern our movement? Can an external entity decide which candidates we choose to present or not, which activists we accept to join or not? This raises several questions. I also suggest that we have a big discussion within the Nupes, in the fall, to pool our thoughts and our methods of fighting against GBV within our respective parties.

Taha Bouhafs criticizes the FI for not having allowed him to defend himself and for having no access to the indictment file. In a press release dated July 5, the FI assures that it can be heard by the monitoring committee. But how to defend oneself without access to the indictment file?

Note, about the contradictory, that the person in question is received each time. This was not the case with Taha Bouhafs, as he withdrew before being received. But that’s part of the process. To answer you on the merits, there is a difficulty, yes. Once again, we are not an instance of substitution for justice. Indeed, there is an element of arbitrariness in the decision that was taken concerning him. We have chosen to give credibility to the testimonies received and to apply a precautionary principle by withdrawing the nomination. It’s the only decision we made. We assume this choice not to place our trust in a man accused of acts of this nature. I would like to take into consideration the context of immense impunity for sexual assaults which is due to social tolerance for these crimes and misdemeanors, even if it has taken a hit with the wave MeToo, but also to the major problem of proof which is generally lacking.

This does not mean that we establish a truth. If the case had remained confidential, and not brought to the public square by the media (because the FI did not wish to make the facts public at the request of the complainants and in order not to expose Taha Bouhafs publicly without him being able to defend), the question posed by this case would be very different. It wouldn’t have had the impact it has today on his life, his job. I’m not questioning the media, let’s be clear, who have the right to investigate, I’m just saying that media coverage is part of the problem. I fully hear the criticism of the impossibility of Taha Bouhafs to defend himself.

Precisely, what will be the consequences of this case?

Personally, I fight for the women who have testified to file a complaint. But, we have to respect their pace. It is true that as long as they do not file a complaint, we are in front of a bone. But who does better? How to do better? We can’t turn ourselves into courts, nor can we let it happen and allow impunity to reign within the movement. We need to reflect on our methods, but we cannot be blamed for having tried to hide the affair since, on the contrary, we took this decision not to invest it, and very quickly.

Eric Coquerel was also accused of sexist behavior, a report was filed by Sophie Tissier with the monitoring committee, as well as a complaint. What is different from the Bouhafs case?

Initially, there was no report to the cell but rumors have been circulating for a long time. I’ve been hearing about Eric Coquerel for years, but I’ve never received direct testimony of assault or sexual harassment he allegedly committed. Journalists and not the least, like Lénaïg Bredoux of Médiapart, investigated at length a few years ago and came up with nothing, finding nothing. The rumors persisted. Then, we heard the testimony of Sophie Tissier on BFM, July 3.

She explicitly says that it is not a sexual assault, and that the facts are not criminally reprehensible. We must not minimize what she says, which is sexism, and her discomfort must have been real. You have to hear it. The cell has since been seized and there will be the same procedure for Eric Coquerel as for all the others, no differentiated treatment. Do facts that come under insistent flirting with hands on hips justify that we take a sanction? If we did, I assure you that many, many politicians would be ostracized! And I doubt that we are understood by the greatest number, that we are thus advancing the fight against violence against women.

You raise an important point about the gradation of the charges. Some are calling for the resignation of Eric Coquerel as others were calling for that of Damien Abad. Have we lost sight of the proportionality of the sanction?

I note first of all that among those who draw a line of equality between the two, we often find the same ones who reproach us for exporting an « American-style feminism » which would lead to a man no longer being able to take the elevator with a woman… Then, of course, the sanctions that we take must remain proportionate. Calls to order, for example, are part of the movement’s disciplinary arsenal.

When we hear Jean-Luc Mélenchon speak of « manipulative revenge » about the accusations against Eric Coquerel, does he not fall into the same rhetorical traps as the other parties when theirs are accused?

Beware of the rhetoric we use in this type of case. The clichés to defend oneself, we know them: « she’s crazy », « it’s a political plot », « she changed version », « as by chance it falls now… ». In this case, however, I want to say that there has been, among certain editorialists, a political choice in drawing a line of equality between Damien Abad and Eric Coquerel. On BFM for example, all day long the subject was treated as such, as if a complaint was worth a complaint, without looking at the difference in characterization and seriousness of the facts.

On the one hand, we have a journalistic investigation which did nothing to demonstrate the facts alleged against Eric Coquerel. On the other, concerning Damien Abad, there is a solid journalistic investigation, public speaking out by women and allegations of incredible seriousness. To put these two stories on an equal footing, frankly, is as unfair as it is unacceptable. And it serves the cause of women.

How can a party act upstream, to prevent GBV?

We must take charge of training and prevention within our movements. For example, there will be training at the National Assembly for all deputies. But again, it’s us women who run it. I want everyone to understand how time-consuming, exhausting, difficult it is. I would like men, within the parties and beyond, to feel concerned about these issues, and not just be in delegating to women and moralizing or even critically ranting afterwards about what is wrong with the way to proceed. It’s all of our business.


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