PARIS, March 14 (AFP) - One of France's
biggest-ever criminal trials, in which 66 men and women are
accused of raping and pimping out children, has shed light on an
under-reported phenomenon -- the existence of female sex
The image, still very much widely accepted in
society, of the woman as wife and loving mother -- who often
assumes the role of physically and emotionally protecting her
child -- has helped keep women sex offenders in the shadows.
"The portrait of a sexual aggressor is one of a
man with a penis," explains psychologist Philippe Genuit, who
works at the women's prison in Rennes, the largest of its kind
"There are very few studies on female sexual
aggressors, as it's a phenomenon that no one dared imagine just
a few years ago," Genuit adds.
"In general terms, the only mother is a good
mother. Maternal closeness with a child is somehow less worrying
than paternal closeness," says Paul Bensussan, a psychiatric
expert who works at the appeals court in Versailles.
Nonetheless, 14 women have been accused of
sexual crimes in the trial that opened in Thursday in the
western French city of Angers. The victims were aged six months
to 12 years at the time of the alleged rapes and sexual
Bensussan says that in addition to societal
tolerance of a mother's close relationship to her child, it is
generally accepted that a sex assault by a woman is not as
physically traumatizing as an assault committed by a man.
"The male aggressor penetrates, the female
aggressor fondles," he notes.
Experts say that women who commit sex crimes are
also less likely than men to issue threats of other physical
"Such incidents (involving women) often take
place in an atmosphere of fusion, of tenderness, but that does
not rule out the psychological destruction of the child," says
long-time prison psychiatrist Sophie Baron-Laforet.
In the courthouse, women are often accused of
complicity, with men generally considered as the driving force
behind the actual assault.
"Sometimes the woman is present but does not
participate. She can sometimes manipulate the child for the man.
In rare cases, she can assault the child but as compared with
men, it's a tiny number," notes Roland Coutanceau, a psychiatric
expert at the Paris appeals court.
But Genuit says the image of the "passive,
submissive mother is changing" as a result of trials like the
one unfolding in Angers, or the so-called Outreau case, which
saw 10 defendants convicted of sex offenses and seven acquitted.
Incestuous mothers are often vulnerable women
with meager financial means and who are starved for affection,
experts say. In the vast majority of cases, the women were
victims of sexual abuse, either as children or adults.
That does not mean that the upper classes are
immune to cases of incest, but Genuit says the situation in such
families is "more opaque", as "family loyalty and the concept of
legacy are very strong".
"These families have a lot to lose if a victim
comes forward," Genuit adds.
The Angers trial also raises the issue of
parents pimping out their own children, another phenomenon long
ignored or kept under wraps.
"It goes back to a time not so long ago when
children could not say anything. The child loses his status as a
holder of rights -- and becomes a piece of merchandise that
belongs to the parents. The child can be loved, but not as
someone with rights," Bensussan says.