[Translated from Swedisch article]
Alyssa Ahrabare from the French organisation Osez le féminisme explains how they managed to prosecute traffickers and pornographers in a historic French court case.
Next year in Paris, the owner of a porn site will be prosecuted. It is a historic case involving 40 victims and three organisations as civil parties (Osez le féminisme, Mouvement du Nid and Les Effronté-es). It is a victory for the women’s movement, and especially for us in the Osez le féminisme group, which has pursued the issue and is a civil party to the case. Osez le féminisme (“Dare to be feminist”) is an organisation that provides holistic support to over 40 victims in both cases, including legal assistance, psychological trauma therapy, and social support, with a team of 30 lawyers, two specialist psychologists and a social worker.
The prosecution covers a range of charges: rape, prostitution and human trafficking.1 The subject of the prosecution is the French website ‘French Bukkake’, owned by Pascal Ollitrault (known as Pascal OP), which posts extremely violent pornographic videos. According to a report by the Haut Conseil à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes (Equality Council), these cases are the norm rather than the exception, and the pornography industry benefits from widespread impunity to minimise “serious violations of human dignity”.2
The preliminary investigation was launched in 2020, and investigators soon discovered that many complaints had been filed across France for several years, but had not been followed up. In the course of their work, the investigators uncovered a system of sexual exploitation for the purpose of rape, and a judicial investigation was opened for ‘gang rape’, ‘aggravated trafficking in human beings’, ‘aggravated pimping’, ‘money laundering’, ‘concealed labour’ and ‘distribution of recordings of images relating to the execution of a deliberate attack on the integrity of a person’.
The survey revealed the grim reality of ‘Bukkake’ films. Paying subscribers were invited to participate in gang rapes based on a particularly dehumanising scenario: many men penetrated a woman (sometimes over 80 times in less than two hours) before collectively ejaculating on the victim, who was displayed on a pallet as a commodity. 500 men were identified in the investigation. Ordinary men, porn consumers who were invited to rape and torture women on camera. They have not yet been prosecuted.
The French Council for Gender Equality published a report this year on the criminality of the pornography industry, including the testimonies of victims.3
The investigation related to the “French Bukkake” case has revealed a well-organised strategy to capture victims. A man named Julien D. targeted women on social networks. He approached them under a fake female profile called “Axelle Vercoutre” and, using the myth of “happy and lucrative prostitution”, convinced them to try becoming “luxury escorts”. He then posed as a buyer, met the women and raped them. Raping victims in order to exert control over them is a common practice used by pimps and traffickers.
After the rapes, Julien D. encouraged the women to try being in pornographic films that would only be shown to limited audiences abroad. They were to go to a specified address where several days of horror ensued. The producer, Pascal OP, at first seemed nice, with the intention of forcing their consent and recording it. Subsequently, the complainants report that they were raped on camera, humiliated and tortured by filming degrading scenes. Hair analysis also shows that some of them were drugged without their knowledge.
Women were also deceived when they asked for videos posted online to be deleted.4) Victims report significant psychological difficulties after the filming. Some tried to take legal action as early as 2017, but the police did not act: warnings in Toulouse, Brignoles, Les Andelys and Reims (where Julien D. lived) were not followed up.5
At the end of the investigation in July 2023, seventeen people (producers, directors and actors) were charged with rape (often committed as part of a group), human trafficking, aggravated pimping, and hidden labour. and concealed labour.6) Several have been in preventive detention since 2020.
The trial will be held in summer 2024.7
As a result of the evidence highlighted by the investigation, the French Senate has produced a report entitled “L’Enfer du décor” (Hell behind the curtains).8
The findings clearly show that pornography is a system of violence against women. Subsequently, a resolution was signed by 255 senators (making it the most signed senate text of the French Fifth Republic) stating that the fight against pornographic violence should be prioritised. The resolution was unanimously adopted in a public session on 1 March 2023.
For the civil parties in the cases, every step of the way is a struggle. Plaintiffs do not always have the money to travel to Paris for interviews, hearings and expertise on the case. Many are traumatised and live in very precarious situations due to the physical and psychological effects of the violence they suffered. Moreover, the films are still available online. Despite countless attempts, it has proved impossible to have them deleted.
Many women are threatened or are recognised and harassed on the street. They experience both a social death and an ongoing fear that loved ones, families or colleagues will accidentally see the films. The difficulties they go through make it extremely difficult for more victims to come forward. This exposure highlights a failure of the justice system for women who are victims of violence.
Ultimately, the word pornography hides an organised global criminal system. In the videos we can see real people being subjected to humiliating and degrading acts, such as ejaculation on the face, spitting on the face, urinating or defecating on the victim.
This kind of violence is the norm: it’s what the industry calls ‘mainstream’ porn, with content showing extreme violence where women are bound, whipped, strangled to suffocation, beaten… Women are muzzled to force them to keep their mouths open and are orally penetrated without restriction. Women are given electric shocks. In any other context, this is considered torture. However, in this context, it means that international criminal networks that could be held accountable under the existing legal framework can get away with offences in the name of freedom of expression.
EU Member States, including France and Sweden, are using the “freedom of expression” argument to limit the potential protection of women and girls from online violence, particularly the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, in the proposed directive on violence against women and girls currently under discussion in the EU institutions.
The EU Council of Ministers, representing the “interests” of the Member States, has included amendments to Articles 7 to 10 of the proposed directive aimed at tackling online violence against women. These amendments significantly limit the criminalisation of non-consensual use of intimate images, stalking and expression of hatred online.
The condition of ‘serious harm’ to the victim was added, as was the condition that the offence be ‘public’, meaning that acts in private groups or forums and online pay sites will not be included. Finally, both the reasoning and legal text now state that criminalising these types of online sexual violence must be balanced with freedom of expression, academic considerations, art and science.
Freedom of expression is not an absolute right. The European Convention on Human Rights states that it can be restricted in a democratic society for legitimate purposes, such as protecting the rights and reputation of others. In the case of defamation lawsuits against survivors of sexual violence condemning the perpetrator, freedom of expression is not used as a shield. This highlights a very dangerous paradigm shift of both approach and culture.
Traditionally, the law only protects speech that is consistent with a humanistic social contract, not hate speech. In European legal culture, freedom of expression was traditionally a right that protected the weak against the strong. This right is now mobilised in the war against women.
Pornography is an attack on the fundamental rights of all women. Violence is a natural part of its economic function as the content must constantly “surprise and shock” the consumer.
Pornography has been condemned and fought in every wave of the fight for women’s rights. After the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, feminist movements gave a voice to victims who testified about rape, kidnapping, violence and sexual trafficking. We have known this for decades. It is high time to fight. It is happening now. What we are seeing is a systematic, global violence that requires a global resistance.
As a general policy response, we call for the reaffirmation of the fundamental principles on which our society is based: the rejection of hatred and violence, and an explicit respect for human dignity. Unlimited freedom for pornocrats means trampling on the rights of the most vulnerable and discriminated against in our society.
In France, decision-makers, especially senators, have been crucial to the progress achieved so far. It takes courage to take a stand against something that has become so normalised. We expect Swedish decision-makers to be brave too. It is time for Sweden to stand on the right side of history in this matter as well.