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Pedophilia, how the law of silence reigned over school

One in 300 adults say they have been sexually abused, as a child or teenager, in public school. One in 250 declares to have been in Catholic education, which has always welcomed a much lower number of students (less than 20% of the numbers today). This is the terrible picture that the Sauvé report draws up of pedophilia in schools, over the period 1950-2020.

→ FILE. Understanding everything in the “Saved Report” on Sexual Abuse in the Church

A phenomenon of a striking magnitude in view of the few cases that come to light. Some of the people polled or questioned had certainly never denounced the violence suffered or lodged a complaint. But the fact that these dramas have remained buried for so long questions a possible law of silence at school.

One-off mobilizations

With regard to the public, the report deplores that it was not until the years 1990-2000 for a turning point to take place: “Until then, the“ culture of suffocation ”and the movement of the personnel involved were the rule. ” A few years ago, during an interview, a former rector told us that, a few decades earlier, he transferred to another academy a professor who had had a “Love affair” with one of his supposedly 14-year-old students “Consenting”, in order to appease the anger of his parents …

→ INVESTIGATION. School, leisure, institutions… The prevention of sexual violence against minors is getting organized

“In 1997, a circular from Ségolène Royal intended to fight against pedophilia at school changed the situation”, observes the doctor Emmanuelle Piet. But in the early 2000s, the Outreau affair, which called into question the word of children, complicated the task. “The school is the institution that makes the most reports, but for cases that often occur within the family, she notes. The procedures are now clear and known. “

However, regrets the president of the Feminist Collective Against Rape (2), “It still happens that we come up against an esprit de corps”. The abuser often follows a strategy aimed at blurring the judgment of his colleagues: “He is kind to them, is constantly helping them. In passing, he lets children think that other adults are aware of his actions and approve of them. ” Suddenly, continues Emmanuelle Piet, “It often takes a strong mobilization for cases to be resolved”. Mobilization generally punctual, and localized. “Parents’ groups that sometimes see the light of day disappear once their file is closed”, she notes.

Parents’ associations paralyzed

Parents associations are often paralyzed. “There is a sacred taboo around these questions”, recognizes a former head of a parents’ federation, who mentions the need to“To act without throwing any names in the pasture”. “These cases are scary because they lead to an investigation, to a possible trial, and because they lead to terrible human consequences, even when the suspicion is not justified. Not to mention the complex situations that this triggers on the scale of a neighborhood or a village where everyone knows each other. “

MAINTENANCE. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem: “In national education, responses to sexual abuse have not always been up to the task”

Very often, says this interlocutor, the inspectorate, the director of the departmental services of education and the rectorate take again the hand, by asking the representatives of the parents the greatest discretion. “We then come up against a hermetic administration, eager to hush up the affair locally, in the logic of” no wave “”, affirms this person in charge, alerted each year by his network on the existence of five to ten cases.

“It was not omerta, just incompetence”

This is not exactly the reality that Latifa Bennari describes. Assaulted as a child by one of her teachers, she fought in the 1990s as a parents’ delegate to bring out the truth in her daughter’s school, in Île-de-France. A teacher was fondling students and filming them in the changing rooms of the swimming pool. Alerted by other families, this mother began to question the children concerned and the adults of the establishment.

But if it was scrapped, it is not against the institution as a whole. A national education inspector even encouraged her to create her own association and then to intervene in the context of training. Problem: he had to face the school principal first. “On his part, it was not omerta, just incompetence, an inability to manage this information”, remembers the one who now chairs L’Ange Bleu, a structure which, with its hotline, provides support to victims as well as to people experiencing pedophile impulses and seeking help to avoid a transition to act. “People among whom there are sometimes teachers”, she specifies.

“If many cases do not come to light, it is sometimes that a school principal wants to protect his reputation or that of his school, nonetheless recognizes a former major player in Catholic education. Most often, it is also to protect the victims and their families, at their request, and prevent them from being stigmatized. “

“We weren’t brave enough”

In the wake of the MeToo movement, this senior official nevertheless wonders if it would not have been more judicious to discuss publicly and more broadly the cases of pedophilia in schools. Of course, from the 2000s and especially after 2016, Catholic education tackled this question, but it would have been necessary to go beyond, considers this interlocutor: “We weren’t brave enough. The few files that came back to us should have alerted us, pushed us to watch for the slightest weak signals. “

TO ANALYSE. Sexual abuse in the Church, the terrible past of Catholic education

According to the Sauvé commission, Catholic education concentrates 30% of sexual assaults committed within the Church, with a particularly marked period between the years 1940 to 1960 (during which priests and religious were still very present in the establishments). The authors of the report point to certain specificities of the time, such as compulsory confession, which, in the establishments, took place directly in the confessor’s room-office.

“We have to put ourselves back in the context of the time, when society still considered the words of children to be negligible, adds professor of education science Bruno Poucet. Until the 1970s, families often put the institution first and, in a way, tolerated this kind of practice. Also, the children did not speak, or not explicitly. “

Public authorities sometimes at the origin of blockages

This researcher cites the example of the Catholic college where he himself was educated, in the Somme. “During the study, a teacher called one or the other of the students into his office, pretending to help him with his homework. It happened that some came out telling the group that the teacher had just made inappropriate gestures. In the establishment, it was known. We managed as best we could to refuse to go. For those who did not know, it was a kind of hazing… But it would never occur to us to tell our families about it. Because we did not even imagine that our parents could react and hold the authors to account, their hierarchy. “

Today, assures a head of a Catholic education establishment stationed in the West, the blockages also sometimes come from the public authorities. He evokes the case of a teacher who, a few years ago, “Multiplied the inappropriate remarks, the gritty comments, the proposals addressed to young girls”. “I hastened to report these inadmissible behaviors to the rector’s service which deals with private teachers. (3). He appointed him to another establishment of the academy, where he recommenced his misdeeds. “


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