Multiple protests against French minister accused of rape

PARIS – Chanting “Impunity is Over!” or dancing against sexual violence, women’s rights activists protested Friday in multiple cities in France and abroad against President Emmanuel Macron’s appointment of a new interior minister who is accused of rape and a justice minister who has minimized the #MeToo movement.

The actions started Friday morning in Dijon, where new Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Prime Minister Jean Castex were meeting with police. A dozen feminists held out banners and signs condemning Darmanin and rape culture.

Later Friday, in front of Paris City Hall, women staged a flash mob and performed the song and dance “ A Rapist in Your Path “ started by feminists in Chile, which has become an international rallying cry against sexual violence and victim shaming.

The young, diverse crowd — most in masks — demanded Darmanin’s resignation and exuded anger at Macron, who had promised to make fighting sexual violence a grand cause of his term. Signs read “Darmanin named, Victims disdained” or “Victims, We See You.”

One of the speakers, who identified herself only as Margaux, said: “Without questioning the fundamental right to the presumption of innocence, the nomination of a man accused of rape reminds us how sexual and sexist violence is normalized and minimized, including at the highest levels of the state.”

“The message sent is very clear: Aggressors, don’t be afraid,” she told the crowd of about 1,000 people.

Feminist group Nous Toutes and others announced other actions Friday in other French cities as well as at French embassies or consulates in London, Sydney, Montreal, Berlin, Brussels, Barcelona and Tel Aviv.

The French government said it remains committed to gender equality and defended the new ministers, stressing the presumption of innocence.

Darmanin firmly denies the rape accusation, and an investigation is underway. New Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti is a lawyer who has defended a government member accused of rape and sexual assault, and has ridiculed women speaking out as a result of the #MeToo movement.

Activists also expressed concern about LGBTQ rights with Darmanin in charge of French police, because he opposed gay marriage before France legalized it in 2013.

“We have the impression we’re being treated like idiots,” said Paris protester Alix Joly, a 25-year-old graduate student. When she heard about the latest government nominations, she said, “I laughed, but bitterly.”

The protest came amid a growing investigation into accusations by at least 26 women that a Paris street artist well known in the historic Montmartre neighbourhood raped or sexually assaulted them. The artist-photographer says he never raped anyone. Lawyers for the accusers say he systematically preyed upon teen girls or young women, plied them with alcohol or drugs and took compromising photos so they would be too ashamed to report what happened.

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Angela Charlton contributed to this report.