PARIS (Reuters) – French prosecutors said on Friday they were opening an investigation into allegations of rape of a child, after a woman said she had been sexually abused by a prominent author when she was 14.
Vanessa Springora, now 47 and head of France’s Julliard publishing house, has alleged abuse by Gabriel Matzneff, an 83-year-old who for decades was feted by France’s cultural elite for his literary talent while saying publicly that he was romantically attracted to teenagers.
Matzneff has acknowledged being in a relationship with Springora but said in a letter published in France’s L’Express weekly on Thursday that she was falsely representing him to be a pervert and a predator.
Reuters was unable on Friday to identify any lawyer representing Matzneff. Repeated calls to his representatives at two publishing houses were not returned.
The #MeToo movement has unleashed an international wave of people alleging they were sexually abused by people in powerful positions, but the response in France has been relatively muted.
Some cultural commentators say that, traditionally, French cultural circles have held to the belief that great talent excuses wrongdoing.
The Matzneff case, triggered by a memoir by Springora called Consentement (consent), indicates public attitudes are starting to shift.
“A literary aura does not guarantee impunity,” Culture Minister Franck Riester said in a Tweet soon after Springora’s allegations surfaced last month.
On Friday, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement: “After having analyzed the work ‘Consent’, published on Jan. 2, the Paris prosecutor has today opened an investigation for rape committed against a minor aged under 15, in connection, notably, to Vanessa Springora.”
A French judicial source, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, told Reuters the investigation was related to revelations about Matzneff.
France’s junior health minister and the secretary of state for equality issued a statement saying Matzneff was being investigated by prosecutors.
The #MeToo movement began in the wake of the scandal surrounding Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein, accused of sexual misconduct dating back decades by more than 70 women. He has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters were consensual.
While many people in France embraced the movement, some prominent figures did not. Actress Catherine Deneuve put her name, with 99 other French women, to a 2018 letter saying the #MeToo campaign amounted to “Puritanism” and that men had the right to “pester” women.
Underage relationships have featured in Matzneff’s writing, and in 1977 he published a piece in Le Monde newspaper giving his support to three people convicted of having sexual relations with 13- and 14-year-olds.
In a 1990 television talk show, he talked about his sexual exploits with girls.
Nevertheless, he was named by the Culture Ministry as an “officer of the arts and letters” in 1995 and he won the prestigious literary award, the Renaudot Essai, in 2013.
Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; editing by Christian Lowe and Janet Lawrence