French actress Adèle Haenel criticises judiciary over sexual abuse

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner have urged French actress Adèle Haenel to trust in the country’s judiciary, following accusations of child abuse that have shocked the French film world.

In a lengthy interview on Monday given to investigative website Mediapart, Haenel created shockwaves in the French film industry.

The actress accused French director Christophe Ruggia of sexually harassing her for three years, when she was between 12 and 15 years old.

Haenel says the abuse started in 2005 when, during her debut cinema performance, she played an autistic child autist in Ruggia’s film The Devils.

After the film was released, the director tightened his psychological grip on her, Haenel goes on to say.

“He put a system in place to isolate me, so that I was at his place every weekend…He was a man of nearly 40 who every week was in a room with a girl who was between 12 and 15 and tried to touch her up.”

She categorically denies Ruggia had any other intention than to abuse her.

“There was no ambiguity in the situation… it wasn’t romantic, it was pure pressure. I was stuck on the sofa. I froze in the centre of all this.”

She said the experienced traumatised her and that she never wanted to make another film.

Haenel decided to go public after watching “Leaving Neverland”, the documentary about the child victims of US pop star Michael Jackson.

She said her resolve was further hardened when she discovered that Ruggia was set to make another film with adolescents.

Taking justice in her own hands
The case has attracted huge media attention in France for several reasons.

Firstly, unlike the Weinstein affair or most other accusations of sexual harassment, it is the victim who is better known than the accused predator.

Haenel is a rising French star, winner of multiple awards, and has received high critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic for her recent performance in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”,

Christophe Ruggia was once an important film director on the French cinema circuit, but has seen a series of commercial and critical failures in recent years.

Secondly, this is not a sexual harassment case where accusations and counter-accusations drag on in court.

This is a case of alleged child abuse that was documented and researched before being made public.

French website Mediapart has been investigating the affair for seven months. More than 30 people have come forward with testimony. They include Christophe Ruggia’s ex-partner, who claims she left him after he confessed to being in love with Haenel and of touching her inappropriately.

Adèle Haenel also produced love letters she said Ruggia had sent her at the time.

However, the actress has said that she was not going to the police because of the “contempt with which the judicial system treats women.”

“One rape in 10 ends up with a conviction”, she said.

Ambiguous response from the accused
Ruggia’s lawyer told AFP that while the filmmaker may have had “an involuntary adult director’s hold over her… he categorically denies touching or sexually harassing her” when she was a minor.

Haenel told Mediapart in the live streamed interview that she was “shocked that he denies it. You have to recognise, denying it is further abuse. And I am even more shocked by the fact that he says he discovered me, because really he destroyed me.”

After the accusations, the French society of film directors (SRF) expelled Ruggia from its ranks, giving its full support to Adèle Haenel.

Ruggia was formerly co-president of the organisation.

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