Verdicts will be delivered tomorrow in what has become a harrowing trip down memory lane for women who allege that they were brutally gang-raped as teenagers living in the high-rise tower blocks of a poor Parisian suburb. The alleged victims had been initially hailed as courageous at the outset of the trial, but after some pretty loathsome victim-blaming from several of the 14 male defendants and a suicide attempt by one of accusers, The Guardian reports that the French public is now reeling, faced with a previously overlooked culture of youth violence and a seemingly too-lenient justice system.
The alleged victims — aliases Nina and Stephanie —have claimed that they endured months of near-daily gang rapes when they were just 15 and 16, growing up on the dilapidated estates in Fontenay-sous-Bois outside Paris. In 2005, Nina was left unconscious by an especially brutal beating after years of abuse, and decided to tell a female police officer, which led France to come face to face with similar gang rapes of teenage girls on similar estates across the country. The alleged attacks on Nina and Stephanie took place between 1999 and 2001, and, explains The Guardian's Angelique Chrisafis as she summarizes, Nina's account in the newspaper Libération, may have gone something like this:
Nina, now 29, told the newspaper Libération she had moved to the housing estate aged seven with her mother and brother after a divorce. She was described as good at school and a tomboy. One night returning from the cinema, aged 16 and a virgin, she said, she was grabbed by a local group of youths, taken to basement cellars in the flats, raped and subjected to a series of brutal sex attacks by scores of local boys. The extremely violent, prolonged attacks by large groups of boys continued daily, in car parks, stairwells, apartments, cellars and the empty playground of a local nursery school. She said there would be "at least 25" youths present during attacks in which she screamed, protested, cried and vomited. One witness described 50 boys "queuing" to attack her.
The nightmare continued well into adulthood — Nina has put on 150 pounds since the attacks, weight, she says, functions as a "shell" she can hide behind. She allowed herself to be filmed by the media and encouraged other victims to go to the police, saying "It was the accused who should hide, not me." With Nina's media appearances, the trial of 14 of her alleged attackers started off on a righteous course, but the jury was held behind closed doors because the accused were minors at the time of the attacks and the trial has consequently assumed a "tense and heavy atmosphere."
That's in part because some of the men have denied the alleged crimes in all the worst possible shades of victim blaming, claiming, for instance that, if sex took place, it was strictly consensual, and even alleging that the victims "like sex." Trial details that made it into the hands of the press included some more sickening accounts of defendants saying that the two women were "too ugly to rape," or that sexual relations had not taken place "because if they had I would have heard Nina moaning in pleasure." In theory, explains Chrisafis, the men — ages 29-33, many of them now married with kids of their own — should each face the maximum 20 years in prison, but the state prosecutor has recommended prison sentences of between five and seven years for eight of them, since they were all minors at the time of the alleged attacks. As for the remaining six, prosecutors have vaguely said that there's some "doubt," without caring to elucidate that thorny concept any further, a move that has shocked the women's lawyers.
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