Ex-models demand change over French sex abuse laws

By Chi Chi Izundu
BBC News, Senior Journalist Reporter

Published
image source, Getty Images
image captionDutch former model Thysia Huisman, in red, was among those to attend the video conference

A group of former models have called on French lawmakers to abolish the law which determines how long victims of sexual assault have to report to the authorities.

The women claim to have been sexually assaulted or raped by their French model agents more than 20 years ago.

French law says they have run out of time to start criminal proceedings.

But the women have said "rape should not have an expiration date".

image source, Nathalie Goulet
image captionThe women met Senator Nathalie Goulet (pictured)

Some of them travelled to Paris to give testimony at the French senate, saying "the law needs to change".

In the meeting with Senator Nathalie Goulet, the women, including Lesa Amoore, Thysia Huisman and Laurie Marsden, called for the time given for sexual assault to be reported to authorities to be "expanded or thrown away entirely".

Ms Goulet said she was interested in a possible French version of the New York Child Victim Act, which allowed a one-year "look-back window", of which old claims past their statute of limitations could be brought back.

"We have a station in the next two weeks on the justice law, so maybe it will be an opportunity to put an amendment and try to discuss this subject," Ms Goulet told the women.

"We all feel the same, this statute of limitations, we have to work on it."

But Ms Goulet added a note of caution to the women, saying "but we have to be realistic.

image source, JOEL SAGET
image captionLeft to right: Ebba Karlsson, Anne-Claire LeJeune and Lisa Brinkworth attended the senate hearing in Paris

"It is crystal clear that you want to change the regulations, but it will never be for the past, it will be for the future, if we are successful.

"On the other side, we have another way than criminal proceedings, we also have civil proceedings which might be easier."

The director of advocacy group The Model Alliance, Sara Ziff, told the meeting that "unfortunately the fashion industry from 30 years ago is the same industry today".

French authorities have already begun a preliminary investigation against Gerald Marie who was one of the world's biggest model agents. Fifteen women, so far, have given statements to French authorities alleging sexual assault or rape against him.

Another former model agent, Jean-Luc Brunel, who has been investigated over the sexual harassment and rape of minors, is the other man some of the women appearing at the senate have accused.

Mr Brunel, who is currently on remand, has denied any wrongdoing.

image source, Sonia Moskowitz

Laurie Marsden claims that in 1982, Marie attempted to rape her after a party.

Now a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, she says it is important to highlight the trauma victims go through before they're ready to talk to anyone.

"I have worked with trauma survivors for the last 24 years and I intend to speak about why women don't come forward and how it can take many, many years to get over the shame and fear and the overwhelming feelings that are triggered over sexual assault.

"And many people will not talk about it and will not disclose it, really because they are not psychologically capable of doing so. And that's a really important point that has not been taken into account when the laws were written."

Gerald Marie said in a statement, he "refutes with dismay these false and defamatory allegations".

image captionLisa Brinkworth recorded her account of the assault on camera at the time

Former BBC reporter, Lisa Brinkworth also took part in the senate discussion. She posed as a model in a documentary for the BBC's Donal McIntyre Investigates series in 1998.

She alleges she was sexually assaulted by Gerald Marie during filming.

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