Ex French minister found guilty of rape after office 'foot massages'

Georges Tron was jailed for raping two employees - GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP via Getty Images
Georges Tron was jailed for raping two employees - GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP via Getty Images

A former French minister was sentenced and imprisoned for gang rape and sexual assault on an employee for the first time in modern French history, as a new wave of sexual abuse scandals rocks France.

Two former employees of Georges Tron, a mayor of the small Paris suburb of Draveil and former secretary of state, accused him of multiple assaults and rapes perpetrated with the help of his deputy at the time.

On Wednesday, he was sentenced to five years in prison, including a two-year suspended sentence. He spent his first night in jail on Wednesday evening – the first time a former French minister has sentenced and jailed for rape since France's Fifth Republic was founded in 1958.

His deputy, Brigitte Gruel, was given a two-year suspended prison sentence.

"I still can't believe it. When I heard that all the facts had been accepted as true it was a relief because that's what I've been asking for ten years, to be heard," said Virginie Ettel, one of the accusers.

The verdict was delivered following a ten-year fight for justice as a wave of sexual abuse scandals rocks France, including several investigations implicating politicians as high-up as the current interior minister.

"In 2011 all the elements that could have led to the sentencing of Georges Tron were already there. But the MeToo movement was not a reality yet," Vincent Ollivier, a lawyer for Ms Ettel, told the Telegraph.

Tron, who has been mayor of Draveil for 25 years, frequently gave employees foot massages which they did not feel comfortable refusing, and which in one instance led to the sexual assault of Ms Ettel, according to court documents obtained by the Telegraph.

Tron and Gruel contributed to creating a "hypersexualised environment" at Draveil's town hall, the documents said.

The charges had been dropped in 2018 when a court decided there was insufficient evidence the women had not consented to the sexual acts, but the jury at the appeal trial this week upheld the accusations from Ms Ettel.

Tron was cleared of accusations by Eva Loubrieu, another employee.

The past few months have seen a wave of allegations of sexual abuse and re-awakened an initially sluggish #MeToo movement in France.

In October 2017, in the wake of the fall of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, women in France used the hashtag, and its French equivalent #BalanceTonPorc ("call out your pig"), to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse.

But few powerful men who were accused lost their jobs, while many in France pushed back against the movement. Significantly, 100 prominent women including actress Catherine Deneuve wrote an open letter defending the "right to bother women."

"Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a macho aggression," the letter read in early 2019.

Now the movement against sexual abuse is undergoing a revival. The past few months have seen the emergence of #MeTooInceste and #MeTooGay, under which survivors told their stories of abuse as children and gay people, respectively.

A host of allegations were triggered by the publication of a book last month, La Familia Grande, in which author Camille Kouchner accused a top political expert and commentator, Olivier Duhamel, of sexually abusing a relative when he was a minor.

The head of prestigious French university Sciences Po, Frédéric Mion, resigned over criticism of his handling of the scandal after it emerged he had been informed of the accusations against Mr Duhamel, a former head of the organisation that runs the university, in 2018.

An investigation into rape accusations against interior minister Gerald Darmanin has also been reopened.

Ms Ettel, who brought the rape charges against Draveil's mayor, praised the #MeToo movement for allowing survivors to talk about their experiences.

"We talk about #MeToo, now there is more freedom to speak out and that is very good. But ten years ago there was not all that and it was very difficult to manage," she said.