Why this silence around incest, which is exercised on several levels?
Charlotte pudlowski The first factor of silence is due to the difficulty for the victim to speak. She undergoes such a level of violence and stress that there is very often a disconnection in her brain at the time of the facts which will generate an oversight. We then speak of “traumatic memory”. A number of victims will have difficulty remembering what exactly happened, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for years. There is also the fact that a child does not know the words to say this. He doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. The victim has a feeling, because it is physically and psychologically painful, that she is undergoing something that she should not undergo. But she has enormous difficulty denouncing an abuser who is supposed to protect her, a person whom she has learned to love and respect.
Charlotte pudlowski This silence is also imposed by the aggressor, insidiously or head-on. We can see it very well in Camille Kouchner’s book (1), where the father-in-law exercised emotional blackmail: “We settle this between us, and then your mother is very badly, let me take care of it …” Then , at another level, the silence of the entourage is linked to the fact that the aggressor is an authority figure who dominates the whole family. Olivier Duhamel was someone who reigned. Camille Kouchner speaks of him as a king who reigns over the victim’s body, but also over all those around him through his intellectual aura, his power, his charisma, and the admiration his wife has for him. It’s very difficult to debunk that figure. When there is incest, the whole entourage is taken under the thumb of the patriarch. I am talking about the patriarch in the broad sense. It is not always the father or the grandfather, it can be the big brother, the cousin, but always someone who dominates the small pyramid of the siblings, of the family.
Between 7% and 10% of children would be affected. This violence begins on average at the age of 9.
What is the share of responsibility of society in incest?
Charlotte pudlowski We must understand that we are all socialized from childhood to this silence. In “The Cradle of Dominations”, anthropologist Dorothée Dussy (2) explains that 7% to 10% of children are affected. This violence begins on average at the age of 9. So, in a fifth grade class, two to three children are victims of incest. Either you are one of them, or you have been around them. It can be seen: these children have trouble forging links, they are exhausted because they are raped at night, and do not follow the next day in class.
Since I started working on this subject, I keep thinking about my fifth grade class. I remember in particular one or two children, of whom I will never know if they were victims of incest, who strangely touched the bodies of others. You don’t do that at 9 if you haven’t seen it at home. Everyone had teachers who didn’t ask questions of these children, who didn’t take care of them. We are all socialized to this silence.
Among the incestors, there are people who are pedophiles. But this is not the case for all. There are the “bargain rapes”.
I think this silence is also fueled by an overly sacred view of the family. In fact, one can well imagine that family ties are no more important than some non-biological ties. In recent years, in parallel with feminist movements that want to break down patriarchy, we have seen new possible family patterns appear with assisted reproduction, surrogacy, the possibility of same-sex marriage, homoparentality, etc. This reinvention of the family not dominated by a patriarch is healthy in relation to all the problems of traditional violence.
Incest is not a love relationship but the exercise of domination. Can you explain to us what a “windfall rape” is?
Charlotte pudlowski Among the incestors, there are people who are pedophiles in the sense that they have a pathological sexual preference for children. But this is not the case for all. This is really what Dorothée Dussy calls “bargain rapes”. Abusers take what they have on hand, believing they can dispose of other people’s bodies. There is a continuum of violence, and not pedophiles on one side, rapists on the other. It is a systemic problem of violence that one allows oneself to exert on others and, in this case, of men on women and children.
Camille Kouchner’s book illustrates this extremely well. The stepfather assaulted his stepson, but implicitly in the book, other sexual assaults are described. I was talking about it recently with Julie, whom I interview in my podcast. She and her sister were assaulted by their grandfather, as was their great aunt. These are logics of systemic domination, which must absolutely be treated as such. Camille Kouchner’s story should not be treated as a news item, nor should it be confined to the Parisian elite or to a post-sixty-eight community. No. It is about patriarchy. Of the authorization that men give themselves to dispose of the bodies of others.
Abusers take what they have on hand, believing they can dispose of it.
Camille Kouchner, Vanessa Springora – who recounted the hold that Gabriel Matzneff had over her when she was 14 years old -, Sarah Abitbol – who accuses her ex-trainer of having raped her – are over 40 years old. Is it being the parent, or aunt of a young child that triggers speech?
Charlotte pudlowski At 40-50 years of age, we have rebuilt our own life more and we may need less of our original nuclear family. But, more generally, there is the fundamental movement that we have been living for ten years with feminist issues that are becoming mainstream. This helps free speech. Getting out of silence is really a collective work. Each person who speaks authorizes another to do so.
When I released the podcast, I got thousands of messages from people who said they hadn’t told anyone and were telling me. I wish them to be able to tell their loved ones and to come out of the silence more. I don’t know what triggered my mom’s speech all of a sudden. It’s still a chain. We don’t say it once, and everyone knows it, and it’s settled. No, it is a permanent job to break out of silence. Courageous women, including Adèle Haenel, by speaking out, make others understand that they also have the right to do so. Listening to other people makes you feel less alone. This solitude is the biggest confinement in silence.