PARIS — “At a certain level of fame, no French man has ever been convicted for sexual abuse.”
These words are from the book “Impunity,” by Hélène Devynck, who says she was raped by France’s most famous TV presenter.
Devynck is among dozens of women who have spoken out recently to accuse Patrick Poivre d’Arvor of rape, sexual abuse or harassment from 1981 to 2018. Her book, published last month, investigates accusations against Poivre d’Arvor, denounces France’s historically lax attitude toward sexual abuse allegations and questions why the #MeToo movement in her country has had such limited impact.
Poivre d’Arvor, who hosted France’s most popular news program for more than two decades and remains a revered personality, denies sexual wrongdoing and insists relations with his accusers were consensual.
Now 75 and retired, Poivre d’Arvor has sued 16 of his accusers — including Devynck — and a French newspaper that reported on the allegations.
Most accusations are now too old to prosecute, but French magistrates opened an investigation that examines alleged abuses by Poivre d’Arvor. French media report that over 20 women have filed legal complaints, although no charges have been brought.
In the United States, several high-profile sexual assault trials are unfolding across the country: movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Danny Masterson and filmmaker Paul Haggis all face accusations linked to #MeToo. All deny wrongdoing.
France, meanwhile, has not seen any major figure prosecuted in the #MeToo era, and has had a more fraught relationship with the movement. Even as more and more people in France are standing up against sexual misconduct, debate continues about where seduction ends and sexual harassment and abuse begins, especially in a context where the myth of the “French lover” remains popular and positively perceived.
The book by Devynck, 55, comes after multiple recent accounts of women accusing Poivre d’Arvor in French media outlets.
Devynck said she was raped in 1993 by Poivre d’Arvor when she was working as an assistant to him at TF1, a leading European broadcaster. At the time, Poivre d’Arvor drew in up to 10 million viewers every night.
Poivre d’Arvor’s accusers told Devynck that his fame and power made it seem futile to speak out when he abused them because they felt nobody would believe them and it would ruin their careers.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Devynck said the point of her book “is to show how that impunity was built, forged, maintained. And since we have spoken out… impunity continues.”
Accusations poured in after author Florence Porcel, now 39, first filed a complaint in February 2021 against Poivre d’Arvor, accusing him of raping her in 2004 and 2009.
The AP generally does not identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted, except when they publicly identify themselves.
Devynck said she spoke with about 60 women accusing Poivre d’Arvor of sexual misconduct while writing the book. Since its publication, she said about 30 more women have come forward with allegations against him. Not all have spoken to police, she said, because some prefer to remain anonymous and avoid a long, difficult judicial process.
A few of the women knew each other through work, though most did not.
Poivre d’Arvor was the star presenter of TF1’s evening newscast “20 Heures” between 1987 and 2008 and one of the most famous people in France, where he is widely known as just “PPDA.” An author, he also used to anchor a prestigious TV literary program.
A couple of weeks after Porcel’s complaint, in his only interview about the allegations to date, Poivre d’Arvor acknowledged “small kisses in the neck, sometimes small compliments or sometimes some charm or seduction” — things that he said are not accepted anymore by younger generations.
“Never in my life, ever, have I accepted a relation that would not be consensual,” he added, speaking on TMC, a channel that belongs to the TF1 group.
Devynck said she noticed strong similarities between the accounts of the women she spoke to.
“We all tell the same story, he was using the same words. He was starting with, ‘Are you in a relationship? Are you faithful?’ And then, he was doing the same gestures and he had a very well-oiled process,” she told the AP.
Poivre d’Arvor used to offer women to watch “20 Heures” in the television studio, then invite them into his office, Devynck said. “Not all were raped. Some were abused, others harassed. But every time, all those who speak out say he tried (sexually-oriented acts),” she said.
That, she described in her book, is exactly what happened to her.
“I remained silent. I did not speak while I was working at TF1. If I had spoken, it was the end of my professional life and I had absolutely no chance to make my voice heard,” she told the AP.
Devynck decided to make her story public 28 years later. She filed a complaint to police last year after seeing Poivre d’Arvor’s interview on French television, following Porcel’s complaint.
“The image shown by that man compared to what I knew, me, about him, was so wrong that the next day, I called investigators to give my testimony,” she recalled in her interview with the AP.
“I spoke to defend other women,” she added.
She argued in her book that the image of Poivre d’Arvor, often described as a charmer, helped protect him. Because he was known to try to seduce lots of women, people assumed that all relations were consensual, Devynck said.
Poivre d’Arvor’s lawyer, Jacqueline Laffont, declined to speak to the AP about the case. She referred to previous comments she made last year after Porcel’s case was initially closed following the preliminary investigation.
Closing the case without pressing charges was “the only possible decision” after a “thorough investigation,” Laffont said at the time. She said that Poivre d’Arvor had been able to bring “evidence” for his defense showing that Porcel “was lying.”
Porcel then filed another complaint, leading a magistrate to reopen a judicial investigation. The Nanterre prosecutors’ office said several other accusations made more recently were combined with that investigation.
Only 12% of alleged victims of rape or attempted rape file a complaint — and only a small proportion of those cases lead to a trial, according to French government statistics.
The French Interior ministry said, however, that there was a 33% increase in 2021 in the number of sexual abuse complaints reported to police, a trend it partly attributes to the #MeToo movement prompting women to go public with incidents from their past.
“Before #MeToo, women were even more afraid of saying what happened to them,” said Violaine de Filippis, a lawyer and activist who specializes in women’s rights.
“So now, to say ‘No, it’s not meant to be, it’s not normal, it’s illegal and it’s serious,’ that’s very important,” she said.
She did not specifically refer to Poivre d’Arvor’s case.
France’s justice minister Eric Dupont-Moretti sent a note last year to prosecutors encouraging them to investigate sexual abuse allegations even if they appear too old to prosecute. One goal, he said, is to find other potential victims; another is for magistrates to be able to hear from the people accused.
Devynck said she would like to see Poivre d’Arvor in a courtroom.
“I hope there will be a trial one day, but that I don’t know,” she said.