A burgeoning movement on the French island of Corsica has harnassed the #IWas hashtag to recount and denounce acts of sexual violence they suffered as minors, challenging a local culture that is more used to victims' silence. The hashtag is often simply followed by an age: #IWas7.
In the southwestern Corsican city of Ajaccio, at least 400 people, mostly young women, marched on July 5 to bring attention to the sexual abuse of minors. Some held signs bearing messages: “Not your sexual object”, “She files a complaint, she dies anyway” and “From 6 to 10 years, by my father”. Marchers chanted, “We are strong, we are proud feminists and radicals, and angry!” The Ajaccio protest followed one in the northern city of Bastia on June 21 when some 300 marched with similar slogans.
The movement has gained the support of Ajaccio Mayor Laurent Marcangeli, who joined the July 5 march, as well as the mayors of Bastia and Bonifacio, Corsicas southernmost town. Three days before the Ajaccio march, Marlène Schiappa – who served as French minister of gender equality before this week's cabinet shakeup – asked that the citys prefecture receive a delegation of protesters.
Some marchers in Ajaccio wore white T-shirts printed with “#IWas”, a hashtag that emerged in the US this spring and the latest in a series aimed at encouraging women and men to reveal experiences of sexual harassment and assault. In October 2017, in the wake of reports on Harvey Weinsteins assaults on women in the film industry, French journalist Sandra Muller encouraged women to #Balancetonporc (roughly, "Squeal on your pig") by sharing stories of workplace sexual harassment. A few days later, American actress Alyssa Milano gave new fuel to the #MeToo movement by asking her followers to reply if they had been harassed or assaulted.
More recently, #JeSuisUneVictime (I was a victim) emerged as a response to the awarding of a César award (the French equivalent of an Oscar) to director Roman Polanski, who has been accused of rape in the United States and France.
What distinguishes tweets tagged with #IWas is the age users say they were at the time of the alleged sexual assault – often well below the age of consent. That is also the case in testimonies on the page #IwasCorsica, a homegrown version of #IWas that current and former residents of the island began using in June to share their accounts of abuse.
Culomba Sicurani, 25, was one of the first. On June 5, she tweeted, “#Iwas approximately six. It was my cousin. He was 14. I woke up in the night. He wasnt sleeping. And asked me to help him finish what he was doing.” Now living in Dublin, Sicurani explained the difficulty of recounting such an experience to AFP: “In Corsica, its small, we all know each other. We dont dare speak because the rapist is the friend, the cousin.”
#Iwas 6 environs. C'était mon cousin. Il en avait 14. Je me suis réveillée la nuit. Il ne dormait pas. Et m'a demandé de l'aider à finir ce qu'il était en train de faire. Ça c'est moi à cette époque. Cette photo me rappelle et me tétanise.
Là aussi j'avais trop bu sûrement. pic.twitter.com/khpwmrpZNq
— Culomba (@CulombaS) June 5, 2020
“Iwas is an electro-shock, nobody expected it," Sicurani said, adding that she didn't want to press charges.
Two days after Sicuranis tweet, Stella Pasquini tweeted: “#Iwas it happened from age 4 to age 10. He was my own father and it was always sodomy. He told me that it was normal, that all dads did that to their daughters … I was 4 years old … I believed it and let myself do it, I told myself it was normal and only a terrible moment I had to endure.”
#iwas ca cest passer de 4 à 8-10 ans cétait mon propre père et uniquement par sodomie. Il me disait que cétait normal que tout les papas faisaient ça à leurs filles… jai 4 ans… jy crois et me laisse faire, je me disais que cétait normal et quun mauvais moment à passer
— stella_pasquini (@stella_pasquini) June 7, 2020
Pasquini told FRANCE 24 how she managed to speak out at the age of 15, when her parents separated, and then file a complaint against her father. "The police found more than 12,000 pornographic photos of children.” A discovery "that proved what he did to me”, the young woman said.
Pasquini's father was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2019.
She said the Corsican movement had encouraged her to share her story: “When I saw all these girls sharing in Corsica, it made me want to do it too.”
The movement comes as something of a surprise for a patriarchal, insular island culture where a code of silence known as omerta has long protected criminals from justice. Known as FranceRead More – Source