French newspaper Liberation on Tuesday expressed “profound regret” over a furore triggered by its decision to publish a letter from a rapist to his victim that was flagged on its cover on International Women’s Day. “I raped you, Alma”. Letter from an attacker to his victim,” read a front-page headline in the left-wing daily on Monday, alongside a drawing of a man forcing himself on a woman.
The letter, published in full on page 14, was from a student in political science in the western city of Bordeaux who admitted to raping his then girlfriend and fellow student, Alma, in 2019.
Liberation initially defended publishing the letter, saying it “aims to interrogate us and take us out of our comfort zone whereby the rapist, the monster, is the other.”
But on Tuesday, it admitted to “several blunders” and expressed its “deep regret” towards those who felt the paper was “downplaying something that we intended to denounce.”
Alma was the first of several students at Sciences Po Bordeaux to go public in January with rape and harassment allegations against fellow students — part of a glut of claims involving political science students that lifted the lid on a culture of toxic masculinity in top French colleges.
In a post on her class’ Facebook group declaring “shame must change sides” Alma revealed that she had been raped by her ex, Samuel, at the age of 18.
Liberation said that Alma, who is in psychiatric care, had agreed to the letter she received from her attacker being made public and said his public confession had brought her a measure of relief.
But feminists slammed the letter, saying it was not for the paper to offer Samuel a platform to try explain his act but a matter for the police to investigate. “It’s SHAMEFUL,” the Osez Le Feminisme (Dare to be a feminist) association said.
“A rapist cannot be given a voice just anywhere… especially if he has not stood trial,” feminist Valérie Rey-Robert tweeted.
France has been rocked by a second wave of allegations about sexual assault, including incest, targeting figures in politics, entertainment and academia.
Experts say the latest reckoning is a consequence of the #MeToo movement in 2017, which broke taboos about sexual violence and saw women worldwide air their experiences on social media.
The tone of Samuel’s letter, which was titled “I raped, you rape, we rape,” came in for stinging criticism, with feminists slamming him for portraying rape in a relationship as “banal”.
Describing a “passionate relationship that knew no limits”, the 20-year-old said that he had “lost control”. “The rape I committed is extremely banal and dangerous,” he wrote.
He added that he had been sexually abused as a teen and also blamed a society where men are taught “to put their pleasure over those of others and grow used to being in positions of power. “We are all responsible” for creating a “rape culture,” he charged.