Archive for March, 2009

Civil liberties campaign launched in France – what was said

Posted in Translation on March 26, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

This is an extract of the speech given by the leader of France’s opposition, Martine Aubry, at the launch of its campaign for civil liberties last weekend. It highlights some of the areas of concern shared with the Campaign for Modern Liberty in Britain. Other concerns raised included databases of private information, freedom of the press and the treatment of refugees. It is notable that the centre-left opposition is speaking here against measures introduced by a right-wing government; in Britain its sister party, in government, has followed the same policies as the latter, with the opposition promising, despite Daid Davis, greater security measures.

…And what is Nicolas Sarkozy doing while the French are suffering, while the French are crying out for help – he’s talking about security.

There have been some unacceptable acts recently, as there have been many in recent history. We strongly condemn each of them. And it is true that, when a few youths entered a high school to settle some personal scores, it was right that there was a presidential visit within two days, there’s nothing odd about that. When a teacher showed great courage in intervening between students to prevent violence he had, within twenty-four hours, an audience with the President of the Republic – no doubt that will serve to comfort those teachers who are today having difficulty finding a thread of hope in governmental action. But don’t you think that the workers made redundant at Continental, at Arcelor Mittal, to whom Nicolas Sarkozy had said he would return and that the company would not close, also need the President of the Republic? And how is it that faced with the suicides of the young and even younger in prisons, having had neither guidance nor care, not one member of the government – in any case, not the President of the Republic – is rushing to say that, in a democracy, “the treatment of prisoners, the mentally ill, the marginalised, shows the level of development of a society.” That too is what we want to say, as we gather to talk about liberty.

It is as though Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to put security in the spotlight to deflect our questions about economic and social issues, and his personal failure. It doesn’t surprise us because we are used to this avoidance strategy. But we won’t be taken in by it. For socialists, security is a fundamental right, as important as access to health, education, housing and work – all now pushed down the ladder. All of us, elected representatives and mayors in particular, are fighting the reduction of police officers on the ground every day. Because community policing has been cancelled, because we no longer have preventative measures against delinquency, because local government finances are being restricted, because extracurricular tuition has been cancelled, because funds are being restricted in the areas that allow these young people their dignity.

Absolutely, security has to be improved, because it can’t be kicked into touch this time by saying ‘it’s their fault’. It’s now seven years they have been there, seven years they have been legislating towards a police state, and with no results. Let’s recall these laws, mostly for petty crime: young people found in the hallways of their own blocks of flats would be held criminally responsible; there is a demonisation of young people found in ‘gangs’ (I’d like to know how to measure what is a gang, when young people are taking a walk round town together) [the British definition allowing disbandment is “if a constable in uniform has reasonable grounds for believing that the presence or behaviour of a group of two or more persons in any public place in the relevant locality has resulted, or is likely to result, in any members of the public being intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed”]; minimum sentences have been introduced [previously at judges’ discretion]. These laws suggest complex questions have a simple answer, they prevent judges from considering the situation of the person before them so as to blindly implement a governmental directive – that’s the reality.

And then it’s been seven years of the politics of statistics. Statistical politics which drives police officers towards town centres where they would rather stop men and women driving without seatbelts, or on their mobile phones (albeit wrong), rather than the areas where there is trafficking, where there are serious problems, where 95% of French people are still waiting for the community policing that was cancelled. That is the real fight for security.

Since his election, Nicolas Sarkozy has been responding to society’s concerns with reductions in freedoms, trying to make the French believe that by limiting the scope of democracy and attacking freedoms, they will be safer.

We refuse to go back to a system of propaganda through fear. One that tries to make make the French believe that progress is not the first condition of order, that liberté and fraternité can be harmed in the name of so-called ‘efficiency objectives’. That even a democratic power can view justice and liberty as a straitjacket, ideals as a fallacy, without a risk to our Republic.”


As a ‘new Sangatte’ is announced, a look at conditions inside French detention centres

Posted in Translation on March 23, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

This article on migrant detention conditions was prepared for the English-language section of the French national. l’Humanité. It comes at a time when rising quotas for migrant deportations are leading to the construction of a new detention centre near Calais, close to the site of the Sangatte camp. It will be funded equally by the UK and French governments.

Northern Ireland does not have control over its migrants, who may be detained at Dungavel, Scotland. It cannot control which countries are accepted as ‘safe’ for returns – so opponents of Mugabe, for example, seeking refuge in Belfast could be returned to their fate in Harare, with the Assembly powerless to stop it. Even when Policing & Justice are devolved, immigration, asylum and international relations will remain outside Stormont’s reach, among other “excepted matters.” This matters if you have a view on innocent refugees being imprisoned for 18 months, much longer than the 42 days described by David Davis as an example of “the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms.”

As the situation in detention centres becomes more explosive by the day, while the government wishes to marginalise the Cimade, there are citizens who intend to have their right to bear witness respected. Humanité gives a platform, in Tuesday’s edition, to the women and men whose lives have been shattered.

Don’t leave us isolated and in silence.” On the 14th of February, twenty detainees at the administrative detention centre in Palaiseau (Essonne, 20km south of Paris) began a hunger strike in a cry of anger. It is a form of action that has become almost commonplace in these centres, where the undocumented await their expulsion, but this time the sound of the alarm has broken through the walls of this ’foreigners’ prison’. “It’s happening right under our noses, in our town.” We asked ourselves, “what can we do from the outside ?”, says Serge Guichard, of the French Communist Party and the United Anti-Neoliberal Left collective.

Following a few meetings between parties of the left, NGOs and simple supporters, an initial fifty volunteers decided to create a citizens’ observation scheme for Palaiseau’s detention centre. Since last week, they have been carrying out bi-weekly visits to the detainees. While the situation in the centres is becoming more explosive by the day and the Cimade[1], as the only NGO permitted to enter, has been put in the spotlight, this initiative could spark debate on the right to witness the interior of these foreigners’ prisons.

The more you lock up, the more you can expel

There are currently twenty-six detention centres in France (with four more under construction), where, according to the euphemisms of official discourse, ’foreigners in irregular situations’ are ’held’ as they wait to be ’placed at a distance from the territory.’ The centres have become a key component of the policy of expulsion quotas implemented by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2005. The more you lock up, the more you can expel… 35,008 ’held’ in 2007 (35% more than in 2004), of whom 242 were children, who cannot however, be expelled. “With the statistical steeplechase, we’re seeing new kinds of detainees arrive,” confirms Caroline Martin of the Cimade. “Not only families, but also pathologically ill people and labourers, arrested right on the building sites, who are arriving at the centres in their blue overalls.”

The mysteries of Vincennes…

The direct consequences of this industrialised detention impact on an almost daily basis : self-mutilation, attempted suicides, fires and riots. Every month now a centre is burned out : January – Bordeaux; February – Toulouse… The fire at the centre in Vincennes last June nevertheless marked a turning point. On 21st June 2008, a riot broke out following the death of a detainee. The biggest detention centre in France went up in smoke. The response of the government was repression and disinformation. The eight undocumented migrants, questioned the day after the fire, are still in preventative detention in Fresnes. The circumstances surrounding the death of Salem Souli, the crux of the riot, have not yet been clarified. In July, his remains were repatriated to Tunisia in complete discretion. His ex-partner and son of thirteen years old, no longer in contact with the victim, came to know of his death by chance in October. At the beginning of January they brought legal action, for withholding of information and manslaughter through negligence of safety obligations.

This affair is revealing as regards what happens during detention”, notes Mouhieddine Cherbib, of the Tunisian Federation for Bi-partisan citizenship (FTCR), which is taking civil action. “They tell us ’Keep a move on, there’s nothing to see here.’ But on the inside, these people do not accept to be put in prison when they haven’t done anything.”

Silence, lock-down!

In this context, the marginalisation of the Cimade is worrying. Highly critical of the policy of imprisonment, the non-denominational assistance organisation could be replaced by others who may not take the same care to bear witness. “Because Europe has adopted the Return Directive, which extends the detention limit to eighteen months, transparency is required regarding what happens in these centres”, stresses Migruerop’s Claire Rodier. At the beginning of February, that association launched a campaign demanding the right to bear witness to these imprisonment sites. “What raises questions”, she continues, “is the place detention has in the management of migration. We are in the process of trivialising a system that evokes horror.”

[1] Translator’s note: The Cimade is an NGO originally created to support WWII evacuees. Cimade members are now the principal advocates for migrants’ and refugees’ human rights in France.

What were the three million French protestors’ demands?

Posted in Translation on March 19, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

Up to three million people took to the streets today in France to protest against the government’s response to the crisis. It was the second major strike after over a million gathered on 29th January. Below are translations of some of the literature distributed by the organisations participating, with some of the commentary made afterwards.

Olivier Besancenot’s new and increasingly popular Nouveau Parti Anti-capitaliste made a specific list of demands, drawing inspiration from the successful and sustained protest in Guadeloupe:

Measures of self-defence include forbidding redundancies, with material penalties for those who fire staff, and reducing overtime, with corresponding staff appointments to absorb unemployment. An immediate increase in salary of €300 with a minimum wage of €1500 for workers, the retired and the unemployed. Pay equality between men and women, 100% pay for those in short-term unemployment, it’s just taking back what was stolen by shareholders for speculation.

Faced with their crisis, we not not less but ,uch more social protections – full retirement at 60 and 55 for labour-intensive work, medical care and medicine 100% reimbursed. The billions offered to the wealthiest and the executive directors must be taken back to fund a million new jobs in public services. The banks need to be nationalised, without compensation nor takeover, to build a single public banking service.

A strong programme is not enough; we need strategic tactics to win. A movement like this doesn’t present itself, it has to be built by uniting the efforts made by workers and by teams of activists from trade unions, NGOs, political parties, all those who wish to act together to build a general strike.”

The European Greens party of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, MEP and May ’68 student leader in Paris was also making clear demands:

  1. European ‘ecological conversion’ contracts for large production sectors

From the bleak car industry to agriculture, machinery to construction and chemical production, we can’t protect workers without conversion of activity. We learned from the steel industry in the 80s that without foresight, the battle for jobs is lost. At the time, billions of francs could only postpone the failure. We don’t want that kind of future. We have to change the direction of the economy towards different ways of production, a different transport system, different land management and agriculture.

  1. Ten million ‘green’ jobs created in the next five years

Millions of highly-qualified, durable and non-outsourceable jobs can be created across Europe – 500,000 in France in the short-term – in ecological and carbon-neutral disciplines. Renewable energy, small-scale rural organic farming, efficient energy consumption, eco-construction, transport, environmental repair, crafts, recycling, personal assistance, ecological and environmental protection.

  1. An EU Directive on working hours: work for a better life

Sharing work around rather than increasing working hours or at-risk appointments: the crisis puts the spotlight back on the working week in Europe. This provides a pool of jobs and a means of harmonising upwards EU social policy.

Finally the Attac association, which works against economic inequality, combined the protest with another being held across Europe on the 28th March against the meeting of the G20, to take place on the 2nd April in London. It too makes specific policy proposals:

Bringing finance into line

Attac calls for the repeal of the clauses forbidding any restriction f capital movements (article 63 of the Lisbon treaty) and the creation of a tax on all financial transactions. We urgently need to get rid of tax havens and ban hedge funds that destabilise the markets. We call for the creation of European centre of finance covering the entire banking sectors under citizen control.

Immediate measures against poverty

A minimum wage allowing everyone: unemployed, working or retired, a decent living with access to housing, health and to a balanced diet.

Social justice and fiscal harmony

Low and medium salaries must be increased and the highest directed towards financing social protections: insurance against health, retirement, unemployment. Europe must harmonise upwards corporation tax.

The response from the Prime Minister, as expected, stated the firm intention to stick to the measures in place, including those announced after the last protest at the end of January. He rejected a “new recovery plan”, while respecting the “legitimate concerns faced with an extremely serious global crisis. The presidential candidate defeated by Sarkozy, Segolene Royal, called the government “disdainful, incompetent and obstinate.” Her party’s leader called for the budget to be replaced.

A sister to the campaign for Modern Liberty is born in France

Posted in Translation with tags on March 19, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

The French sister of the Labour Party, the opposition Parti Socialiste, has launched its Spring campaign, featuring public liberty as its theme. Following the recent ‘Convention on Modern Liberty‘, this is further sign that opposition to creeping attacks on liberty is an issue across Europe.

The approach is different and some of the initiatives opposed are specific to each country. The foremost shared concern is surveillance and the right to privacy. DNA databases are growing in both France and the UK. The role of the media, raised recently by parliament, has been the subject of controversial, possibly authoritarian, legislation in France. I blogged previously on EU information-sharing agreements. There is much to suggest that as assaults on liberties are occurring across Europe, responses should be similarly coordinated and prioritised across that area.

Here is a translation of the campaign’s press release:

Press launch for ‘Campaign for Public Liberty’

On Wednesday 11th March, a press conference was held to launch a socialist offernsive against attacks on public freedoms. A chance to present ‘France’s Freedoms under Surveillance’, the reference work of this citizens’ initiative, and to come back to the issues at stake in this essential combat. The speakers were Martine Aubry, First Secretary of the PS [Socialist Party];Marie-Pierre de la Gontrie, National Secretary for Public Liberty and Broadcasting and Pascale Boistard, National Secretary for Organisation.

The Socialist Party’s First Secretary gave a clear reminder of the issues in this citizen’s initiative: liberties are being withdrawn, whether in justice, the media or the role of opposition. So we have to fight to preserve our individual and collective rights. That is the sense of our initiative: to build an “ordered society, one that is serene, tolerant, open.”

The book we are presenting today, ‘France’s Freedoms under Surveillance’, is not a pamphlet. It is a cold analysis of the acts and legal decisions that come from the policies held by the government and the president of the Republic in all areas of freedoms.

France is not doing well, economically or socially. The government and Nicolas Sarkozy are busy giving speeches, but less so in follow-up actions. At the same time, the legislation is piling up – not to limit financial excess, for example, but to restrain freedoms.

On the one hand, you have a government whose ideology is not to take decisions – it refuses to abandon the Budget amidst economic failure, under the ‘president of spending power’.[elected on a promise to cut the cost of living]. On the other, restrictions on freedoms mean that those who wish to express their discontent, will do so less in future.

The Socialists are for a France that lives in safety, in harmony, that doesn’t just look at it’s neighbour in the corner, but helps him, with neither suspicion nor judgement. When you read overseas media, you’re struck by the concerned attitude towards the French situation.

This is a cold analysis then, strengthened by organisations already working on the subjects, but on a specialised or scattered basis. It’s a factual document, not a polemic, accurate on the reality of events and an inventory of the situation. To follow its evolution, we have created a blog.

Illustrating these restrictions on freedoms:

  • In justice, placing limits on the powers of judges, and by raising minimum sentences;[powers relating to whether a trial proceeds, in the UK similar to those held by the PPS]

  • In media, we have stated our opinion on the broadcasting law reform [a wide reform including the abolition of advertising on public TV and bringing appointment of the Chief Executive close to presidential control];

  • In opposition: the limitations on parliamentary amendments symbolise wider restrictions on freedom.

Then there is the eye on those who are different: in immigration, on which we fix a figure, thinking that enough to solve the problems,; in unemployment, for which we get nothing but figures: more population databasing. It’s not a good time to be a senior civil servant either [a departmental police chief was removed after the president was jeered on arrival in his area].

And many more are being added to the list of restrictions on liberty. I recall that in 2008, 1% of the population had been held in preventative detention, that the number of files being kept, and their content, were constantly increasing.

Where is France, the nation of human rights?

We wanted to play our role as a party with something to say, to accompany all those in opposition (NGOs, media, social movements, professionals…).

Today, inequality is spreading and freedom being limited.

On the 22nd March, we will reunite our dear France for debate and proposals; to say that is not the France we want.

Reading this book, you worry because it is clear that we don’t know everything. We are not for standing by, but for a society of order, but with justice to create an structured society: serene, tolerant, open.

The book was edited by National Secretary for Public Freedom and Broadcasting, Marie-Pierre de la Gontrie. It lists 89 items representing liberties. Its presentation, figures, sources and quotes are rigorous. We await the arguments against it with interest. Over time, as the information becomes more complete we can, in the mass, identify a clear policy: the implementation of a society under surveillance and control, a society of repression.

It is a reference work for a citizens’ movement, working alongside those movements already reacting.

Further dissident republican activity?

Posted in On Northern Ireland on March 8, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

In the aftermath of the Antrim murders, is another serious dissident republican attack being overlooked?

These are unconfirmed reports from Ballymena, a centre of dissident activity in the past and a town deeply marked by sectarian division that led, amongst other events, to the murder of Michael McIlveen, the perpetrators of which were recently found guilty.

It appears that in the early hours of this morning, a man was very seriously attacked by two, possibly more, other men on Ballymoney St in the town centre. He is now in hospital, apparently in the intensive care unit. This morning the scene of the attack had been cordoned off by police, presumably to allow for forensic analysis. It is suggested that the man’s family have been recommended to come over from their home in England, perhaps indicative of the gravity of the victim’s condition.

It has been suggested that the two attackers were part of a larger group of ten to fifteen young men who had been drinking in the town yesterday [Saturday] evening. There are suspicions that this group form local sympathisers, if not more, of the Continuity IRA. There are also suggestions that the group remain angered at the death of Michael McIlveen, and may have gone against the wishes of the family, who “repeatedly called for no retaliation following the murder.”

There was previously controversy in the town when charges against five suspected Real IRA activists were dropped to protect an informer. More recently, indications of the divisions within republicanism became apparent when Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay was assaulted in the town’s Dunclug estate.

This afternoon, two men who claimed to be friends of the victim were making enquiries around bars in the town centre. They gave confused stories about their background and relation to the events, and it is from them that that the information regarding the victim’s current condition emanates.

There is concern that the men may be related to loyalist paramilitaries in the area. Ballymena is an overwhelmingly Protestant town and anger must be intense at the two murders which took place last night, as well as this potentially fatal assault. Community relations are uncomfortable at best, and if this event is as it seems, much work will be required to keep further violence from occurring.

Given the sources, the above should be treated with caution. There have been no media reports of the attack.

On what need not become a definitive date in Northern Irish history

Posted in On Northern Ireland on March 8, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

Some thoughts following the double murder, and serious injuries inflicted upon four other men, by the South Antrim brigade of the self-styled Real IRA:

These murders are, first and foremost, irreversible human tragedies. The suffering they will cause to those who survive the dead has only begun. While friends and family can try to support each other, they can only minimise the pain caused deliberately by the murderers.

Whether or not this leads to further tragedy is something society can act upon. The most important response lies not in what we are against, but what we are for. The answer to that lies in the two peace agreements, whose mandate is the greatest weapon against those opposed to peace.

The response to the murders should be to bring the perpetrators to justice. Should any group or individual seek to administer its own form of justice, they would be denying the victims’ families the most significant right they now have.

The response by political parties, if at times not as prompt as one might have hoped, has been correct – to appeal for unity against the futile and unjust campaign of violence led by dissident republicans.

The response should be justice, not vengeance.

The deployment of SRR personnel is now being accepted by many as necessary and urgent. However, there remain valid reasons for opposition to the current administration of the security services. The allegations of complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, the failure to provide justice to the families of Rosemary Nelson or Pat Finucane and, in particular, the failure to respond to the questions raised by the recent Panorama on the Omagh bombing, are testament to that validity.

It is therefore urgent that the security services allow greater scrutiny of their modi operandi. This would be cohesive for a divided society and effective in the fight against paramilitaries on all sides. The decision to allow loyalist paramilitaries to keep their weapons needs urgently to be reviewed.

The response by state organisations should take into account the overwhelming opposition in all communities to these murders and grievous injuries.

Regardless of the status of victim – military, police or civilian – murder, particularly during a peace process commanding overwhelming public support, is a sub-human act.

People of my generation, too young to have experienced the violence of the past but in some cases inspired by it, may do well to listen to those did suffer it.

On International Women’s Day 2009

Posted in Translation on March 8, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

This is a piece written by a woman who has experienced rape. If it is difficult reading, I can only imagine how it was to live first-hand, day in and day out, over long years. I have translated it because it is International Women’s Day. I have also translated it because, 22 months after the Stormont assembly was reconvened, it has still not managed to provide funding for the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre.

Everyday rape

Rape: an act of violence by which a non-consenting person is forced into sexual relations.

But also, and in particular: “A rape is a non-consensual sexual relation, with or without penetration, with friend(s), with a stranger, with or without physical violence. Rape is not only the stereotypical image of a big, bad guy following you down a dimly-lit street with a weapon, it’s also the moment when a NO is not listened to.

I have decided to write this text to tell the story of one of my misfortunate adventures with a man. The misfortune in question began four years ago, but I still think of it often, and feel the need to share my thoughts in that regard.

The issue is a form of ‘soft rape’ (you might say), one of those rapes hidden in platonic, loving or conjugal relations. It is perhaps the most common kind of rape. It is also the kind we don’t speak of much, because it’s not one of those ultra-violent car-park rapes where a stranger uses physical force to submit us to whatever he wants by beating us. It is insidious rape, rape disguised by love, the rape of a night out with friends, domestic rape, rape by a boyfriend…

I wanted to tell this story, it’s context, my situation at the time and how I view it now. I wanted to tell it to help girls who have experienced the same thing to talk about it, or simply not to feel alone faced with this kind of abuse which, for many, “isn’t as violent as all that” (Oh, but that’s not really rape!”). I also wanted to tell it for myself, to put it in the past once and for all.

The story

I was seventeen, he was a close friend (I’ll call him A). We saw each other every day at school and were very close. After a few months, we began to sleep together from time to time, but we weren’t a couple. One of our ground-rules was that if one of us began an exclusive relationship, we would stop having sexual relations. It wasn’t very fair, I don’t think, because he was in love with me, but he accepted the terms of the contract. Time passed and he left to study in Grenoble (he was a year older than I). Our relationship stayed the same but we saw each other less.

After a while, I met another guy and got into a relationship with him. He was very jealous and refused any idea of non-exclusivity, which I accepted. So I spoke to A about this relationship and told him I no longer wanted to sleep with him. He took it badly, but he accepted it (not without various kinds of psychological pressure…) Of course, we’d stay “friends.”

One day he invited me for a weekend at his in Grenoble. There I am, an evening with friends, we drink, we smoke, we go to bed. He tries to touch me. I tell him I don’t want to, because I’ve got this boyfriend that he doesn’t like and because I just don’t want t any more. He insists, I persist, we fall asleep.

During the night, I wake up to his hand in my pants, touching and penetrating me. I’m shocked, I pretend to still be asleep but move to a position in which he can’t touch me so ‘intimately’. He waits a few minutes (of course I couldn’t fall back to sleep), and softly moves my legs to turn me back and spreads them. He starts again. I’m sickened, I feel bad but I say nothing because I’m afraid and ashamed and I feel guilty. I’m petrified by surprise and disgust. For a moment, I can stand it, not knowing what to do nor how to react and then, not being able to let it happen, I get up and go to the toilet, still in silence. I return to sleep at his side in the hope that he won’t start again. In fact, he doesn’t start again but the damage is done. The next day, it’s as though nothing happened.

I said nothing because I felt guilty. He did everything to let me know he loved me and I told myself I shouldn’t have provoked him by going to sleep at his (a common state of mind I had absorbed), and then I was ashamed and didn’t want to confront him with his violence (which for me wasn’t really violence because he hit me after all, and it was more than anything a proof of his love). Perhaps also because I din’t want to accept that a close friend could do that to me without a problem, that he could treat me like an object, placing me where he wanted with no regard for my wishes. I also felt guilty regarding my boyfriend on whom I’d cheated. And if he found out, he would reproach me for having slept in the same bed as A thinking nothing sexual would happen (because obviously, sleeping in the same bed means wanting sexual relations). I was trapped.

As it wasn’t the first time this kind f thing had happened to me, and as I’d grown up in an ultra-sexist environment, I didn’t consider it very serious. I was simply disappointed and could neither identify nor analyse the feeling of profound disgust that I felt towards myself and my body. I had only a knot in my stomach and because (for many reasons) I often did, I stopped to notice it. He had disappointed me but nothing more; the disgust and the anger were towards me and my body.

Time went on and I saw him less and less because my boyfriend (who didn’t trust me at all) had a fit any time I went to see my friends. In the end, I saw them very occasionally, or never. Until the day I broke up with the jealous boyfriend and began to go to see them again. He [A] was now living in Lyon, I in Grenoble. We would only see each other at the weekend, we were still friends but there was a distance between us because the ‘incident’ had destroyed my trust. And then he got a jealous girlfriend, and monopolised. They eventually broke up.

We celebrated New Year 2005 at his house in Lyon. I accepted to sleep in his bed, saying specifically that we wouldn’t sleep together. He hugged a few times, he wanted to “take it further,” I refused and we went to sleep. And in the night, the same scenario, his hand in my pants, his fingers penetrating me. Except this time I reacted. I told him to stop it, not to start again (it was the first time I had mentioned what had happened almost a year before). He said that it was because my skin was too soft, I was too beautiful, he loved me too much. He couldn’t stop himself… And the next day when he had left for uni and I woke up, I found a letter.

The letter

Hello petal,

I hope you slept well all the same. I wanted to excuse myself for last night, I would have liked to to say sorry at the right time, but I couldn’t (I suppose I didn’t want to be in the wrong…). But you know, at this point, I can’t really work out our relationship. And as well, you’re so many things to me: my best friend, the one I’m most attracted to in the whole world…

I missed you, we started hugging and I couldn’t stop myself from trying to take it further. I hate myself for what I dared to do again, but please, know that it’s not out of any bad intention, I just want to give you pleasure because it makes me happy when you’re ‘content’ (it’s not really the word I wanted to use, but ‘happy’ would have been repetition).

Writing this letter, I can’t (unfortunately) stop myself seeing you sleep beside me, caressing your skin, I’d love to know why…

Before, I thought letters like this were for idiots and cowards. Which means either that I’m an idiot or a coward (or both), or that I have difficulty expressing myself with you. I think that, despite everything, I’m hugely intimidated by you, that up to now I’ve been trying to hide that deep inside me but I understand now why people write this kind of letter: in reality, it’s a great way of letting off steam. It’s doing me a lot of good, writing this.

I hope this letter won’t frighten you too much, that you won’t be too upset with me for what I did to you, and you’ll give me a little hug when I see you again.

Much love,


I’d often thought of this letter since daring to speak of what happened, and asked myself where it was. Recently, I found it by chance. I’ve decided to interpret and analyse it according to what I’ve become today:

It begins with a soft word, as though making up for the violence of the act:

I hope you slept well all the same.

This first sentence displays a lightness, a total unawareness regarding the violence, as though he’d taken all the duvet, or left the heating on full all night. As though it were something that had just made my night less pleasant. Whereas there’s violence, transgression, disrespect in his act. There’s a denial of me as a subject capable of choice. Because my decision-making faculties didn’t work in his interests, he waits until I’m in a position of weakness and presents me with a done deed.

to excuse myself

The choice of expression is steeped in meaning, the semantics revealing: he forgives himself and expects me to do the same.

I would have liked to to say sorry at the right time, but I couldn’t (I suppose I didn’t want to be in the wrong…).

There was a refusal to acknowledge the act, the transgression of the ‘no’, going beyond my limits at the time. He needed, therefore, to minimise. He needed a little time to find a way of putting things that didn’t bother his conscience, while appearing to acknowledge his fault. Paradoxically (and I think he did it despite himself), he does acknowledge his general wish to dominate with “I suppose I didn’t want to be in the wrong…” – a rhetorical mistake.

But you know, at this point, I can’t really work out our relationship.

What I see in that is an attempt to find an excuse, to justify himself. For me, it’s not a question of working out the relationship (or of bringing it back to life), it’s a question of considering my wishes, my decisions. It’s a question of deciding and choosing for myself, as an individual, what happens to me.

And as well, you’re so many things to me: my best friend, the one I’m most attracted to in the whole world…

It’s because I love you that I hurt you.” It’s more difficult to resent someone for loving us. “You’re not going to blame me for doing something out love?” It seems to me that “you’re a significant person in my life” begets a certain pressure. If I react violently, if I consider the act for what it is, I deny his feelings and am responsible for breaking things off. He acted only out of love, a love that’s beyond him. That puts the nature of the relationship at stake; “you mean so much, I don’t want to lose you,” as though it weren’t the act itself, but my reaction to it that created the situation placing him at risk. If things were broken off, it wouldn’t be his fault, but because of my reaction. He puts everything on me, the responsibility for the consequences of his act on my reaction.

I missed you, we started hugging and I couldn’t stop myself from trying to take it further.

There shouldn’t have been any hugs at all. Hugs have but one thing in view: sex and penetration. They’re already close.

He can’t control himself, he couldn’t stop himself because we hugged, because I provoked him. You have to do nothing at all if you don’t want to wake up with hands on your body, fingers in your vagina. My desires and limits don’t count. Only his desire and what he wants is important. He denies my freedom of choice as soon as it runs against his immediate interest. And, of course, it’s stronger than he is, he didn’t really choose it.

I see it as a remnant of the myth of Eve and the apple (a myth which the Church has long used to establish Catholic patriarchy). In making woman a demon, a temptress who always provokes man, it suits to place all the horrors of male domination on her shoulders. In particular, shifting it onto us, justifying and founding the will (conscious or not) of men to subjugate our free will and conscience to their desires, put simply to consider our intelligence equal to theirs and evolving at the same level.

I hate myself for what I dared to do again

Punishment of the self; I don’t need to hate him since he’s already doing it. And I can’t blame him for his actions as he’s already blaming himself, in his way. He’s trying to show here that he feels ‘what he should feel’ regarding his act, that he’s reacting the right way: I’m aware of what I’ve done so, you know, it’s not that horrible…The “again” is the only mention of the fact that it had already happened, as though it weren’t really that serious.

He started again because the first time, I let it happen (for all those reasons I’ve already mentioned, but also) in considering that what he did was horrible enough that he should realise alone the extent of his violence. But in reality, as the little boy hasn’t been punished, he thinks he can say it again without further risk. He doesn’t bring his personal ethics, morals, into his act, his desire alone decided it. He refuses to consider the damage he created within me. It’s a little like the attitude of westerners towards those living in countries under their economic power. “No, my way of life does nothing to create misery over there, it’s nothing to do with it,” or rather, “So what if I create injustice, I want that, now.”

but please, know that it’s not out of any bad intention, I just want to give you pleasure because it makes me happy when you’re ‘content’

After all, he didn’t do something so bad because he wanted to do me harm. He disassociates the will that drove the act, the act itself and its consequences for me. For me, all things have their consequence and you have to predict them, he couldn’t not know he would damage since, awake, I refused. “Just want to give you pleasure”: when I say I don’t want something, he thinks it gives me pleasure to present me with the done deed, in breach of my will. As though ‘stimulating my so-called erogenous zones’ without my knowledge would give me pleasure, all the more when I said I didn’t want it. “It makes me happy”: I decide for you what makes you happy, and do it to make me happy. That says it all.

Writing this letter, I can’t (unfortunately) stop myself seeing you sleep beside me, caressing your skin

That’s what’s difficult for him, of course he can’t control himself. I found it somewhat capricious – nothing should resist him. After ‘the incident’, he continues to do what he thinks is the most that he can. He doesn’t say that, perhaps, the best thing to do would be to just leave me alone. He paints himself as weak when it’s an act of domination he’s carried out, and he’s recognised (earlier and despite himself) his desire to dominate, to take the decisions.

I’d love to know why:

It’s very simple: his freedom of choice goes beyond mine, because his desires and choices are worth more than mine and because he doesn’t respect my limits. He tries the ‘let her decide’ but since my decision didn’t suit him, he chooses to deny it. The idea of ‘let her’ is also significant: it is he who decides my possibilities of choice.

Which means either that I’m an idiot or a coward (or both), or that I have difficulty expressing myself with you.

He vaguely evokes the idea that he could be an idiot or a coward, but he prefers to stress the fact that he can’t express himself with me. It’s that the situation is difficult for him, and that’s why he acts in that way. It is he who is faced with a problem, he who needs help and that’s my role. I have to put my pain aside and think of him – poor baby – in a difficult situation (I dominate him by the love he feels for me, as though it were a deliberate, conscious act on my part, the result of my wishes), to console him by telling him it’s not that serious.

I think that, despite everything, I’m hugely intimidated by you, that up to now I’ve been trying to hide that deep inside me

He raises his existential problems regarding me as though they justify his act, as though they caused it. He prefers not to tell himself that nothing justifies such a denial and that it is unforgivable. What’s more, he focusses on himself. Not for one moment in his letter does he mention the pain that he created in me. He doesn’t even think about it. He sees only what is a problem for him. He doesn’t try to imagine the consequences afterwards for me and my relationship with my body, it’s just an unpleasant moment and that’s all.

I intimidate him? That’s why he allows himself to place his fingers in my vagina without me knowing? If I really intimidated him, he wouldn’t even dare speak to me, or in any case, he wouldn’t do that. Yet again, he tries to shift the responsibility onto me: it’s because he’s intimidated by me, by my attitude, and what I do to him that he acts like that.

in reality, it’s a great way of letting off steam. It’s doing me a lot of good, writing this.

He’s still stressing his discomfort and his needs. I read it this way: in his eyes, his guilty conscience (which he’s doing very well with) means more than the consequences of his violence towards me. It’s he who needs something to relieve him, to do him some good. And me, how do I let off steam? While waiting, I internalise everything and get used to not deciding what happens with my body, to my body. While waiting, I get used to being touched even when I don’t want to, something I’ll get so used to that, afterwards, I’ll not even bother saying no and will expect it to happen. So much so that, even now, I find it hard to say “no.”

I hope this letter won’t frighten you too much, that you won’t be too upset with me for what I did to you, and you’ll give me a little hug when I see you again.

And a final little present!

It’s not the letter that frightens me but his transgressive attitude. For the rest, there’s still this pressure of “me, I want, I need” as though what he was writing was from the heart, and would without doubt happen. He doesn’t doubt that I forgive him, it’s a little like it were up to me to comfort him for the situation he got into with me. As though, after his letter of apology, I couldn’t but forgive him.

The worst thing is that I felt that it was what I had done, I felt like I was against a brick wall, and could do nothing but cut off, definitively, all contact with him, which I didn’t want to do (but which I ended up doing).

When I found this letter again, I re-read it several times, not in a reflective way, but rather in need of an outlet. I think some of the passages may show the impact such acts can have (it’s quite violent…)

What a manipulator. It turns my stomach.

It’s rape, yes, you’re a rapist. A filthy shit that can’t stand refusal. I just want you to know that I have forgotten, much less forgiven. And that if you’ve started that again, then you’ve re-raped (for a third time, or more…). The only things I blame myself for are my shame and my guilt, feelings which will come back upon you, which shouldn’t have caused me to accept your fault as mine and to close my eyes to the risk of letting you do it again.

Because I was alone, desperately alone and wasn’t aware of the seriousness or the impact it would have on me. And because I had nobody to talk to, except your friends who would have taken your side.

You played a large part in denying me my body, in the fact that for a long time I’ve believed I can’t say no, that I didn’t have the right. Dirty bastard. I’ll rise above it one day and I won’t feel this abyss, this black hole thinking about it.”