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The Julie case, violated by 22 firefighters

In Paris, a rally calls for "justice for Julie" who accuses firefighters of rape

In 2010, a young girl accused 13 firefighters of raping her, from when she was 15 to XNUMX. After ten years of an interminable investigation, the investigating judges decided to reclassify what she suffered as "sexual abuse". With her family, she seized the Court of Cassation so that her attackers are well tried for rape.

May his attackers be tried for “rape”, and not for “sexual abuse”. This is what Julie asks the Court of Cassation. In 2010, the young girl, then aged 15, filed a complaint with her family against twenty firefighters: she accused them of having raped her several times between 2008 and 2010.

It all started in April 2008. Julie was then thirteen years old, lived in the Paris region and was a fourth-grade student. While she is having a fit of spasmophilia in college, the firefighters take care of her.

On the way to the hospital, one of them gets into the back of the truck with her. He takes the opportunity to take his phone number, and will communicate it later to some of his colleagues. From there begins a period where she multiplies the sexual relations with the firefighters. One of her lawyers, Lorraine Questiaux, describes her as having been caught up in a campaign of cyberbullying: “She was getting worse and worse because other firefighters were sending her sexual images, or making advances to her, which is very disturbing for a young girl of that age”.

At first, Julie does not confide in the harassment she is undergoing. She even claims to want to become a firefighter herself. Her mother, who does not suspect the situation in which her daughter finds herself, decides to organize a meeting, in their apartment, with the firefighter who had taken her number a few months earlier.

A long legal journey

Julie will end up saying that the firefighter is taking advantage of her mother's absence to rape her. This first report is the beginning of a long series of sexual relations with twenty-two different firefighters, who had access to his number. In total, the firefighters intervened more than 130 times between 2008 and 2010 to rescue Julie, who had a series of tetany attacks. For the firefighters, these interventions are an opportunity to maintain contact with the young girl. The sexual relations continue, whether in a public garden, in their apartment or in Julie's, or even in the child psychiatric hospital in which she is interned for a time.

In 2010, Julie ended up stopping the medical treatment she was following and changed doctors. It was then that she decided to confide in her mother, Corinne Leriche. In August, she tries to contact the head of one of the barracks concerned. It will then take six months for an internal investigation to be opened. While many firefighters admit to having had sexual relations with Julie, the police take up the investigation.

A long legal process ensued. In February 2011, three firefighters were indicted for “rape in a meeting of a minor under 15”. Of the nineteen others remaining, two died in response. The seventeen others are not prosecuted: they claim not to have been aware of Julie's age at the material time and never to have forced her.

Missing Evidence

As in many other rape cases, this is the central point: the instruction has especially difficulty in establishing whether or not there was consent between the complainant and the accused. In Julie's case, the investigation is also slowed down by certain contradictions in the young girl's statements. She claims in particular to have been kidnapped, before withdrawing these remarks. The psychiatric experts involved in the case describe her as immature, easily influenced, and having “self-punitive” behavior and a “propensity for storytelling”. Julie herself will say that she does this out of “need to hurt herself”.

It is on this basis that the defense builds its argument. The firefighters claim that Julie contacted them herself before each sexual encounter through social networks, which the young girl denies. Contacted by "Verdict", the firefighters' lawyers did not wish to speak.

For Véronique Le Goaziou, a sociologist specializing in violence and delinquency and author of “Rape, what does justice do?,” it is this lack of evidence that tends to obstruct judgment in cases of sexual abuse. “The violence in the entourage of the victim, in general, is quite difficult to prove, except if we have to do with physical violence of which we can find traces. But the influence, the moral violence, the threats, the regimes of terror that can be put in place by the perpetrators are extremely difficult to prove. However, justice cannot function without proof: it needs elements from which to determine that the facts have indeed taken place”, details the sociologist.

However, it is of course this phenomenon of influence that Julie's lawyers insist on. According to Lorraine Questiaux, in addition to having taken advantage of the fact that she was on medication, the firefighters exerted moral pressure on the young girl: “We can very well understand why she was silent. When we suffer violence like this, we are afraid of not being believed. It would also be necessary to evoke all the actions and stratagems of the aggressors, which aim to reduce her to silence, whether by threats or blackmail. It is a set of behaviors that lets her believe that she will not be believed, and that what is happening to her is normal”.

In November 2020, the Court of Appeal of Versailles considers that Julie was the victim of an offense, not of a crime. The firefighters should therefore be tried in the criminal court for “sexual attack”, instead of appearing before the Court of Assizes for “rape”.

A rare culmination of rape complaints

This is the whole point of the appeal in Cassation undertaken by Julie, now 25 years old, and her lawyers: to ensure that the facts are again qualified as “rape”. The hearing took place on February 10, but the Court of Cassation should not deliver its verdict until March 17. If the appeal is validated, the defendants will be tried in the Court of Assizes, and will therefore be exposed to heavier sentences than in correctional.

According to Véronique Le Gaoziou, this change of qualification, which is called “correctionnalisation”, is a “normal process” in the judicial system. “The various players in the penal chain can reclassify a case at any time. That is to say that they consider, in view of the elements at their disposal, that the case which had been qualified as a rape is not one”, specifies the sociologist.

However, the sociologist explains that the most common process, concerning the treatment of rape cases, is the filing of complaints. In her book, she explains that 70% of rape complaints are dismissed: “The best-known reason for filing is prescription. But there are about thirty others. In terms of rape, the most commonly used ground is what is called the “insufficiently characterized offence”. This means that the prosecution thinks it does not have enough elements to start investigating”.

An emblematic case

Julie's case has had a certain impact in civil society. On Sunday February 7, Corinne Leriche, her daughter's lawyers and numerous feminist associations called for a rally in front of the Saint-Michel fountain in Paris, in order to put pressure on the Court of Cassation. In total, about 300 people responded to Julie's mother's call.

A mobilization which Laurence Cohen, communist senator from Val-de-Marne, hopes will bear fruit during parliamentary debates: “Every time we want to make the laws progress, it is done by mobilization, on the ground. Then, progressive laws reinforce these achievements. This was the case for the voluntary termination of pregnancy: if there was the Veil law, it is because there were previous mobilizations”.

The senator says she wants to support this mobilization of associations for women's rights within the hemicycle. For her, women have been speaking out for a long time, but they have not always been aware of the existence of a more global unequal system.

Despite everything, Laurence Cohen is hopeful. For her, a case like Julie's and the mobilization it arouses can have a real impact on the law and the way justice is done.

Today, however, there are changes in mentalities. The mobilization around the Julie affair makes it possible to impeach the verdicts as they were rendered. There is a real evolution in awareness among women as well as men, it's very positive.

Laurence Cohen

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