Gilles Antonowicz

Sexual Crimes The Reponse of the Judiciary Publication date : May 1, 2002

What is the value of the testimony of a minor who declares having been sexually abused by a family member? If a child accuses a parent of incest, what is the judicial weight of his or her word? When a minor accuses an adult of sexual abuse, there is often the risk of a false allegation. As is well known, and as psychologists have pointed out, children may make things up, they may deform reality and invent stories, without always being aware of the impact of what they say. One can imagine the worst-case scenario: a good, innocent and virtuous father whose life is destroyed — for no reason. What is less well-known, at least among the general public, is that the legal system has sharpened its methods in order to combat the risk of committing judicial errors. The result is that the procedure for those who press charges is long, complex and often very trying. In fact, the difficulties are now so great that it is legitimate to ask if the rights of the victim are still respected in such cases. The author explains and comments on the judicial procedure that an abused child must follow — from the first accusation to the final verdict, which is often pronounced many years later. Given the current climate of debate surrounding the workings of the French legal system, the author asks if the time has not come to reconsider the status of the victim in penal proceedings.

Gilles Antonowicz is a lawyer specialising in cases concerning the sexual abuse of minors.