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‘Government of shame’: French minister accused of rape, sparking calls for protest

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A French NGO has called for protests Tuesday against what it called a “government of shame” after a newly appointed government minister was accused of rape and sexual assault by two women. Damien Abad, France’s new minister of social services, the elderly and the disabled, becomes the latest government minister to be facing sexual assault allegations.

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The controversy over Damien Abad is a major headache for French President Emmanuel Macron and his new prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, as they try to build and maintain political momentum ahead of June parliamentary elections.

Abad on Monday denied allegations published over the weekend that he raped two woman more than a decade ago.

“I contest the accusations against me with the greatest firmness,” he said, adding: “I have never raped a single woman in my life.”

Facing calls to step down, Abad has refused. “Should an innocent man resign? I don’t think so,” he told reporters in his constituency of Ain in eastern France.

Abad’s appointment as minister for social services and people with disabilities in a cabinet reshuffle announced Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old Abad had defected from the conservative Les Républicains opposition party.

But the next day, the Mediapart investigative news site reported that a watchdog group created by members of France’s #MeToo movement – the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual violence in Politics (Observatoire des violences sexistes et sexuelles) – had informed prosecutors that two women had claimed that Abad raped them in 2010 and 2011. The group had also informed Macron’s party, the report said.

For Madeline Da Silva of the Observatory, which called for protests Tuesday, Damien Abad simply “cannot remain a minister”.


‘People knew, but preferred to look away’

One of Abad’s accusers told Mediapart that she blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear and in pain with Abad in a hotel room in 2010. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint but prosecutors are looking into the case following a report filed by the Observatory.

The other woman, named only as Margaux, said that her sexual encounter with Abad in 2011 began as consensual but she accuses him of having then forced anal sex upon her.

The report said she informed the police in 2012 but had declined to make a formal complaint. Her subsequent claim in 2017 was dismissed by prosecutors.

“I’m relieved that it’s come out, because I knocked on quite a few doors so that someone would do something after the case was dismissed, as I thought it was unfair,” Margaux told AFP on Sunday.

“A lot of people knew, but some preferred to look away rather than ask more questions,” she added.

In 2012, Abad became the first disabled person to be elected to France’s lower-house National Assembly and was the leader of Les Républicains party MPs until he joined Macron’s government last week.

In an earlier statement denying the allegations, Abad said his disability meant he was incapable of committing the crimes of which he is accused. 

Abad has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints, which he said means sexual relations can only occur with the help of a partner.

The government’s new spokeswoman, Olivia Grégoire, said Monday that Macron and his government had been aware of the allegations when Abad was appointed but said the judicial process must run its course.

“The government supports those who, following assault or harassment, have the immense courage to speak out,” Grégoire told reporters. To her knowledge, “no other procedure against Damien Abad is in the works”, she said.

But several politicians on the left did not hesitate in calling for his resignation.

“If I were prime minister, I would tell Damien Abad: ‘I have no particular reason to believe the women are lying … While we wait for a decision from the judicial system, I wish for you not to be part of this government’,” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told France Inter radio.

Green politician Sandrine Rousseau also called for Abad to go. “We need to send a loud message to women that their voices count,” Rousseau told RTL radio.

A troubling series

Abad is not the first of Macron’s ministers to be facing sexual assault allegations.

Macron’s decision to appoint hardline Gérald Darmanin as interior minister in 2020 – although he had been accused of rape, sexual harassment and abuse of power – drew heavy criticism and sparked protests. Darmanin was accused of raping a woman who sought his help in having her criminal record expunged in 2009. The rape investigation was dropped in 2018 but judges ordered it reopened the following year. The inquiry was eventually closed without charges being filed. 

Macron’s justice minister, Éric Dupond-Moretti, has repeatedly come under fire for his antiquated remarks about women. Dupond-Moretti has acknowledged that “predatory men” exist but hastened to add that so do women “who are attracted to power”. He cited the hypothetical example of an ambitious “starlette” who decides to sleep with a man to get ahead, referring to it as a “couch promotion“.

Other remarks from Dupond-Moretti have also sparked controversy, including his belief that “some women regret not being whistled at”. He has bemoaned a certain “social hysteria”, noting that actions that once would have been considered minor are now taken more seriously. “What was once considered rakish is now a crime,” he once lamented.

The path forward has already proven rocky for Macron’s party, particularly after the Élysée Palace announced that gender parity issues would be a priority of the president’s second mandate.

Jérôme Peyrat, a parliamentary candidate from Macron’s Renaissance party, was forced to withdraw this week after controversy over his 2020 domestic violence conviction began threatening the party’s chances in upcoming June elections. A robust defence of Peyrat by party leader Stanislas Guerini only added fuel to fire, sparking outrage from left-leaning candidates and prompting the daily Libération to ask why the party would have considered fielding Peyrat as a candidate in the first place.



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