Rape allegations against French minister fuel medical malpractice debate – POLITICO


A third minister in French President Emmanuel Macron’s newly formed government has faced allegations of rape or attempted rape – but this case is very different.

The minister in question is a female doctor, and the allegations she faces have reignited a heated debate between patients and doctors over medical malpractice.

Two women have filed formal complaints accusing Chrysoula Zacharopoulou – an assistant minister for international development, a former Renew Europe MEP and a gynecologist – of rape, the weekly Marianne revealed last week. Another complaint was filed against her for assault. Authorities opened an investigation in May to determine whether to charge the minister. The women who filed the complaints say Zacharopoulou penetrated them without their consent during medical procedures.

The third accuser said Zacharopoulou inflicted ‘gynecological abuse’ on him during an interview with French television. The woman said she has endometriosis – a disorder in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus – and alleged Zacharopoulou disregarded previous medical findings and had conducted an « internal review » without seeking consent. The procedure was « extremely painful, » the woman added.

Through a statement from his attorney, Zacharopoulou denied all the allegations, calling them « unacceptable and outrageous ». She added that she has never forced examinations on her patients without their consent.

Zacharopoulou’s office did not immediately respond to POLITICO’s request for comment.

No Exit

Women’s rights advocates say the high-profile case is a stark reminder of the prevalence of obstetric violence in France. But some gynecologists are fighting back, calling for a distinction to be made between rape and medical malpractice. Both sides say the country’s laws are too vague.

“There are no laws against gynecological and obstetrical violence,” said Marie-Hélène Lahaye, Belgian lawyer and author of a book on questioning current childbirth practices. Lahaye has worked extensively on obstetric and gynecological violence in France and Belgium, and contributed to a 2018 report commissioned by Marlène Schiappa, then French minister for gender equality. The report revealed that the violence committed by obstetricians and gynecologists in France was systemic and not limited to isolated cases.

“There is a bit of a legal vacuum, so we have to rely on something more general that we can find in the law. At the criminal level, what is most similar is the definition of rape,” said added Lahaye.

According to a 2002 law, doctors must ask patients for their consent before undertaking any medical procedure. Failure to do so and performing an act of penetration « by violence, coercion, threat or surprise » is considered rape, according to the penal code.

French law does not take into account the intention to qualify rape, which is defined as « any act of sexual penetration, of any nature whatsoever, or any bucco-genital act committed on the person of another or on the person of the author by violence, coercion, threat or surprise. » Gynecological and obstetrical violence is not limited to non-consensual penetration but also includes inappropriate language, medical misinformation or aggressive and harmful practices.

This legal vacuum leaves victims with few options to file a complaint or seek redress from the abusers. Most of the time, victims turn to women’s rights associations but are reluctant to press charges, Lahaye said.

“In France, obstetrical and gynecological violence is totally taboo. There are no measures in place,” said Sonia Bisch, founder of Stop aux Violences Obstetricales et Gynecologiques, one of the leading patient groups on this issue.

Women’s rights activists want the French authorities to revise the laws that define this violence and provide the necessary remedies for the victims. They say there is also a pressing need for medical professionals to review their medical practices in general.

Few politicians have spoken on the issue. In 2017, Schiappa faced a backlash from the French union of gynecologists and obstetricians after accusing them of obstetrical violence against women.

The union is now also fighting back, following the rape allegations against Zacharopoulou. In a column published last Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche, the president of the union Joëlle Belaisch-Allart declared that health professionals were « very concerned » by the use of the word rape to describe gynecological examinations « carried out without any sexual intention. « .

In a 2021 study compiled by the international NGO Make Mothers Matter, 29% of French respondents said they had experienced obstetrical violence, but up-to-date statistics on gynecological and obstetrical violence are rare. For activists, avoiding assessing the problem allows authorities to deny it is happening. Going forward, Lahaye hopes complaints against Zacharopoulou will raise awareness.

« I think at some point the government will have to really get a grip on this rather than letting things rot, » she said. « I feel that there is a will, which was not at all the case a few years ago, gynecologists, doctors to say to themselves: well, we will also [do something] take this dimension into account.

Zacharopoulou is the third minister in a Macron government to be accused of serious sexual assault. Last year, a judge suspended investigations into earlier allegations against Macron’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, who has not been charged. Damien Abad, the new Minister for Solidarity and People with Disabilities, faces a preliminary investigation by a Paris court following a complaint of attempted rape, which he denies. Several women have accused Abad of sexual assault.

With France plunged into political uncertainty after indecisive legislative elections, Macron is expected to reshuffle at least part of his government in the coming days.

“Abad will not survive the reshuffle,” a majority bigwig told Franceinfo, echoing past statements from Playbook Paris advisers. Zacharopoulou’s future and the message he will send will also be in question.


Back to top button