Writer found guilty of libel over sex assault claim
by Juliette MONTESSE
French writer Ariane Fornia was found guilty of defamation on Wednesday after she accused a former government minister of sexually assaulting her at an opera performance 10 years ago.
Fornia, 30, was fined a symbolic one euro ($1.10) in damages and ordered to withdraw the claim against Pierre Joxe, which had been published on her blog.
She was also ordered to pay 3,000 euros towards Joxe’s legal fees.
Joxe, now 85, was a top Socialist Party politician who served as defence and interior minister in the government of former president Francois Mitterrand.
In 2017, as the #MeToo movement was spurring hundreds of women to denounce abusive behaviour, Fornia accused him of assault while attending the Opera Bastille in Paris in 2010, when she was just 19.
She said Joxe touched her leg several times while trying to get under her dress during the performance.
Joxe denied the allegation and demanded a public apology, launching his libel case last year after Fornia refused.
The alleged assault is beyond France’s statute of limitations, so no inquiry was opened into the claim.
Fornia, the daughter of a prominent right-wing politician whose real name is Alexandra Besson, emerged on France’s literary scene in 2004 with a raw account of her youth titled “God is a Woman: When I Was 14 Years Old.”
She submitted documents during the hearings which she said proved she had alerted her family of the alleged assault in 2010 and 2011.
But in its ruling, the Paris court said Fornia’s evidence “did not demonstrate that she had elements allowing her to claim sexual assault by M Pierre Joxe.”
It also said that not only had Fornia failed to file a complaint against the alleged assault, “there were no direct witnesses of the incident.”
– ‘Presumption of truth’ –
Fornia stood by her claims when the case opened last November, saying “I fully stand behind what I said as the exact truth, and I am certain that Mr Joxe knows it perfectly well.”
She also underscored the fact that a former caregiver assisting Joxe’s wife at their home accused him of sexual aggression and harassment, from September 2017 to December 2018, just days before the hearing opened.
The woman, a 40-year-old from Haiti, filed a lawsuit that prompted prosecutors to open an investigation.
Joxe, who became a lawyer after leaving politics, told the court he was “outraged” by the allegations. “Never in my life, not there nor anywhere else, have I ever behaved the way she claims.”
His lawyers also questioned the accuracy of several details in Fornia’s original account of the incident in her blog.
The case had been closely watched, coming just a few weeks after a similar ruling last year against Sandra Muller, the founder of France’s own MeToo movement.
Muller was convicted in September of defaming a French TV executive she accused of sex harassment in a viral Twitter post.
She was ordered to pay 15,000 euros ($16,600) as well as legal fees to the man she said made sexually lewd remarks at a party, a case that drew widespread scorn and calls for changes to the law from women’s rights activists.
Fornia herself had urged judges to apply a “presumption of truth” to “a woman who has taken the risk of coming forward to testify in the open”.