The French actress, Adele Haenel, was a victim of sexual harassment during the shooting of her first film when she was only 13 years old. Her activism resonated for several reasons. First of all, because she showed us how many layers and subtleties sexual violence can consist of. On the other hand, Adele Haenel caused a big scandal at the prestigious Caesar Awards in Cannes in 2020 by standing up and leaving the ceremony in protest of the awarding of the Polanski Award for Best Director. She did it because he was accused of rape at the same time, and Adele Haenel did not agree with rewarding a sexual aggressor. The eternal question of whether we can separate a work of art from an artist.
This is a story about the manipulation of men, about Adel Haenel’s testimony that will enable the spread of the movement in France. Once again, through a letter to my mom.
Adele Enel, a brave French actress
Today, I want to tell you about Adele Haenel, a French actress, a victim of sexual violence at the age of only 13, who spoke about it publicly 17 years later.
This act of hers was characterized as the French Me too movement, but public opinion, more precisely the film industry, did not know how to react to Adele’s stepping up. While some supported Haenel, others defended men, sexual aggressors and characterized them as romantic.
Were the French simply not ready for such a movement or did they systematically reject it because it came from the United States?
Being with an older man
You know mom, when I was a teenager, it was cool to be in the company of seniors. Until the late 20s, I was of the opinion that it was better for us, girls and women, to be with boys and men older than us, because they were more mature, more experienced, we could learn from them. As we can see in real life, but also on screens and generally in the pop culture, it is completely normal for a woman to be with someone older than herself, while it remains shocking to see a younger man with an older woman. The question immediately arises as to why he is with her, she is given various names. Suddenly we all become psychologists and analyze what their childhood was like, as if to explain how come they are together.
The idea of a woman being with someone “better” than her is just a need for the patriarchy to be reproduced, to continue living with the idea that we, women, are the ones who should be inferior in a relationship, but ultimately absolutely everywhere. And the feeling of inferiority is dangerous, mom, especially when we are teenagers and vulnerable.
The process of manipulation
Adele Haenel, the French actress, experienced sexual violence by director Christophe Ruggia during the shooting of her first film. The preparation for the film and the shooting itself lasted for almost two years, which was in the period when she was between 13 and 15 years old. Christophe Ruggia, the director, characterized their relationship as love. He was 36 at the time. How can an adult man think it’s a love affair, Mom?
Let’s call a spade a spade
Pedophiles, who manage to have a long-term relationship with underage girls, manipulate her in order to obtain the girl’s consent and wrap everything in a veil of normalcy.
The manipulation comes first, that grown man works to make the girl feel special, gives and shows the love that the girl probably needs and that she accepts, because she does not have the maturity to judge for herself what love really is. The girl, accepting this special treatment, feels superior, because the bully makes her feel respected, listened to, it gives her an impression that she is older than she is. In the period when sexuality and sexual desire awaken, girls (and boys) want independence from their parents, social discipline, they want forbidden fruit, they love the status of a rebel. She surrenders, without even being aware of it, due to the lack of sufficient emotional maturity, to engage in something that she will later regret.
Romanization of love
Just remember Lolita! The romanticizing of love between a man and a hypersexual girl and the way Lolita is portrayed in pop culture make us not view girls as victims in those situations. Aggression may be subtle, but it must not be tolerated.
It is confusing for girls because they mix a feeling of infatuation with a feeling of fascination and admiration for an adult, someone who represents an authoritative figure.
says a pedopsychiatrist for the French magazine Elle Marie Rose Moreau
She adds that the teenager feels guilty very quickly because he feels that something is wrong. Society needs to be much clearer when it comes to age limits and to clearly draw the line between teenage and adults. From the point of view of sexuality age does matter.
We cannot think that such a relationship is okay just because the victim seems to be doing everything voluntarily and wants to be where she is. These girls must be considered victims because they are young and unaware of the situation. Many girls, victims of sexual violence, testify many years later that that period tormented and persecuted them for years without knowing why. They didn’t understand. Some only realize when they are 45 years old.
Victims speak out of prevention
Mom, let’s go back to Adel Haenel, the French actress and her case. She excelled at speaking publicly about everything that happened after seeing the same director prepare a film with the same characters she played 17 years ago and that teenagers will be starring in the film again. Haenel felt that she could not stay silent and let the same director hurt someone again. Aware of her privileges, of having a job and a certain material comfort, she realized that public speaking about what had happened to her was her obligation.
It happened to me, it can happen to someone else, and I have the power to prevent it.
Adel Haenel said in her interview for Mediapart
Great part of Marine Turchi in the whole process
Adele Haenel, the French actress, spoke with a journalist who worked for 7 months researching what had happened between Haenel and the director. Marine Turchi, a journalist for the Mediapart media group, spoke to 36 people who were involved directly or indirectly. It is very important to point out that all the interviewed people read what would be published before and had the opportunity to change their statement. These testimonies were handled carefully, precisely, with a lot of tact and very delicately. Like grinding diamonds.
Letters sent to Haenel, in which the director had open declarations of love, were also included in the entire investigation process, as well as numerous photos from festivals and filming.
Marine Turchi says that, all the interviewed had a great burst of emotions. While some cried, others felt guilty for not saying anything over the years. People even called her later to specify certain things they had said. That survey actually influenced a lot of people to ask themselves, to think about what sexual aggression was. But, most importantly, how they participated in it as eyewitnesses and to what extent witnesses who say nothing are equally guilty.
Women victims talk, but society doesn’t hear them.”
Journalist Marine Turchi
All this is very difficult for the victim because the whole process of remembering what had happened is the reopening of the wound, the one that never healed. The victims often thinks of the aggressor and wants to protect him, as well as her parents. The reason why the whole process is even more complicated and emotionally challenging. The French actress had the same problem. At the beginning of the whole process she encountered her father’s disapproval and wrote him a letter, which she read in an interview.
Silence is the worst form of violence.
Adele Haenel says in a letter to her father
Adele Haenel’s goal
In addition to preventing future, potential sexual harassments in the film industry, but also elsewhere, Haenel’s goal was to encourage other victims of sexual violence to speak up about what they had experienced. She wanted people to start talking about it in family gatherings, with their daughters and sons. Adele Haenel wanted us to learn and collectively become the best version of ourselves.
Only in that way, sexual violence would stop being a taboo. By speaking openly about it, we would finally understand what sexual harassment is, which behaviors are OK, and which are not, and then, ultimately, laws would follow the public discourse. The idea is for the aggressors to think twice before sexually aggress women, but also for the victims to be aware of what they are going through.
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Confession can be healing
The interview with Adele Haenel is fascinating. The conversation is painful for the French actress but very instructive, completely devoid of pathos, regret and self-pity. The French actress says that she is not looking for the culprit, she does not want become a hero, and the accused the villain. Because life is not like that.
Life is not black and white.
It is about acknowledging that we are people who make mistakes, but also who learn from those mistakes. So it’s about admitting a misconduct. That confession, the realization of the seriousness of the act committed by the aggressor, the apology, means incredibly much to the victim. How simple it sounds, Mom, and how hard it really is!
Sexual harassment is a wound, and this mediation can lead to healing! Imagine those accolades, Mom! There is something religious in that act. To say, “Yes, I was wrong, I admit, I see and I will make up for my mistake.” I will work on never repeating it and setting an example for others with my actions so that no one ever commits such a crime. ” Ah, how utopian it sounds!
However, the director refused to admit that he did anything bad. How can a 36-year-old man think he is equal in a relationship with a 13-year-old girl?
Haenel admits that she felt hatred towards herself and despair that made her no longer want to be involved in the film industry. Which is what happened. After this film, she did not work for the next following years. Unaware of what she was going through, she did not admit to herself that she was a victim of sexual violence. However, with this public confession, her faith in humanity returned and gave her the strength and zeal to continue.
You can see the whole interview here.
The French actress does not trust institutions
One in five women is a victim of sexual violence in France.
As you have seen so far, mom, Adele Haenel, the French actress first decided not to address the police, but the press. She believed the judiciary system is not designed to defend women or take their rights and needs into account. In France, one in 10 reported cases of sexual violence ends up being prosecuted and punished. The blame always falls on the woman, the questions they ask her, what she did, where she was, what she drank and how much, you already know the song, mom. After great media pressure on her to press the charges in order to take the whole case more seriously and involve the aggressor in the whole process, Haenel addressed the authorities. Christophe Ruggia was arrested.
Is it possible to build a different society?
The view of the victim should and must change, mom, not only of the court system’s but also ours, of the citizens. Haenel has the faith in society and says it is possible to change. As she says, first because of the victims of violence, but then also because of the aggressors. That is what it means to be human today – to be able to question our own actions and to accept change, improvement, as she says: the multidimensionality of human nature.
The question we have to ask is how do we raise boys today, how do we raise them differently from girls? Because the way we do it today results into to 90% of sexual aggression committed by men. It is obvious that there is a systemic problem and what is wonderful in her speech is that we do not want to eliminate these men and exclude them from society, but to help them ask themselves, reconsider, come to a conclusion and go through the necessary changes so as not to do the same thing again.
Monsters don’t exist, that’s our society, that’s us, our friends, our fathers, that’s what we need to understand. And we are not here to exclude or eliminate them from society. We are here to change them. But we have to go through a moment where they look at each other, where we look into each other’s eyes, that’s what we need to do.
The humanity of her words is enormous. Her willingness to forgive and to open a space for conversation where no one would be lynched but invited to ask questions, to reconsider and thus become the best version of themselves. It is evolving. Adele Haenel, the French acress is perfect in that conversation because she is, above all, honest. She is only looking for justice, but not the judicial one, but a much more humane one, almost religious, where love, care for one’s neighbor, desire to help is really the basis of everything.