French director Ruggia charged in underage sex assault case

Mehdi CHERIFIA
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French director Christophe Ruggia has been charged over accusations that he sexually assaulted actress Adele Haenel when she was a minor

French director Christophe Ruggia has been charged over accusations that he sexually assaulted actress Adele Haenel when she was a minor (AFP Photo/Francois Guillot)

Paris (AFP) - French filmmaker Christophe Ruggia was charged Thursday over accusations that he sexually assaulted actress Adele Haenel when she was a minor, the Paris prosecutor said.

The 55-year-old was charged with sexual assault of a minor "by a person with authority over the victim," the prosecutor's office said after Ruggia was detained for two days of questioning.

Adele Haenel, 31, lodged a formal complaint against Ruggia in November after accusing him in an interview of sexually harassing her when she was between the ages of 12 and 15.

She accused Ruggia, who directed her in the 2002 movie "The Devils," her first film role, of repeatedly touching and kissing her.

Her accusations stunned the French film industry, which has been slower than Hollywood to react to the #MeToo movement turning the spotlight on sexual abuse in the sector.

Ruggia at first fiercely denied harassing Haenel before asking her to forgive him. He then said that she was targeting him because he denied her a part in another film.

Haenel won support from some top names of French cinema, including actress Marion Cotillard who praised her for "breaking a silence that was so heavy".

Ruggia has been placed under judicial supervision pending the investigation, and is barred from meeting Haenel, a source close to the investigation told AFP.

Haenel, who starred in the period drama "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" -- one of last year's art house hits -- initially declined to file an official complaint, slamming the "contempt with which the judicial system treats women".

But prosecutors opened an investigation of their own accord and Haenel eventually did file a complaint.

- #balancetonporc -

Haenel explained in a statement it was her "responsibility as a public personality" to take part in the process, "given the gravity of the facts and the consequences for everyone".

She said Ruggia's public denials had made her "determined to obtain through judicial means the status of a victim".

In another case to shake the French cultural world, the award-winning essayist Gabriel Matzneff is the subject of a rape investigation after prominent publisher Vanessa Springora published a memoir describing a sexual relationship she had with him while she was still a minor.

And director Roman Polanski has been under pressure since a French woman claimed last November that he raped her in 1975 when she was 18 after beating her "into submission" at his Swiss chalet. He has denied the accusation.

The #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment of women by men in positions of power -- translated as #balancetonporc (expose your pig) in French -- was slow to get off the ground in France, where critics say a culture of permissiveness still exists towards unwanted advances.