lawyers for several plaintiffs fight to extend the statute of limitations

Several former models testified in September before the Senate, about sexual abuse in the modeling world. – JOEL SAGET / AFP

In the eyes of the law, the facts are prescribed, yet there is hope. While the investigation against Gérald Marie, former director of the Elite modeling agency targeted by accusations of rape and sexual assault, continues, the lawyers of the fifteen complainants have asked the prosecution for an extension of the limitation period, revealed The world April 13.

Specifically, in the case of one of their clients, they invoke the insurmountable obstacle argument. To understand: the complainant in question did not have, according to them, the possibility of denouncing the facts before they were prescribed.

“We cannot leave these women without a judicial response”, justifies on this subject Me Anne-Claire Le Jeune, one of the two lawyers for the plaintiffs, contacted by BFMTV.com.

In September 2020, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation against the former director of the European branch of the Elite agency, Gérald Marie. If the latter, through the voice of his lawyer, still denies, he is accused by fifteen ex-models of rape and sexual assault in the 1980s and 1990s.

“He behaved in an overtly lustful manner”

It is a particular case which could be decisive: that of Lisa Brinkworth, formerly a journalist with the BBC in the United Kingdom. In 1998, for the needs of a report started a year earlier on the abuses perpetrated in the modeling world, she infiltrated as a false model within the Elite agency. In the mouths of the models she meets, two names come up repeatedly, those of Gérald Marie, the director of the European branch at the time, and the agent Jean-Luc Brunel.

“If I decided to investigate undercover, it was because all the girls and young women I had spoken to were too afraid to publicly denounce Gérald Marie and the other predators of the industry,” he explains. -she now, contacted by BFMTV.com

At the time, already, the European director was the subject of a sulphurous reputation. He himself does not hide having had relations with some of the models he represented. Lisa Brinkworth recounts having witnessed several times inappropriate behavior on her part towards young women.

“I was shocked by the way he ogled them and made suggestive remarks about them to his colleagues. (…) He made no secret of his penchant for beautiful young girls and behaved in an openly lustful manner to towards them”, recalls the journalist.

A confidentiality agreement between Elite and the BBC

For a while, the agent doesn’t really act on her. Until that evening in October 1998, when he would have crossed the red line. The journalist says that during an evening in a Milanese restaurant, Gérald Marie first offered to give her 500 euros in exchange for sex. He then sits on her, “astride”, simulating a sexual act. Lisa Brinkworth specifies having felt her erect penis against her lower abdomen at that time.

While the young woman, shocked, wants to alert the authorities to what happened to her, her employer asks her to remain silent so as not to compromise the report in progress, she continues. In 2001, the BBC even signed a confidentiality agreement with Elite, after the agency filed a libel suit over another matter.

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“It was a serious assault and yet the BBC did their best to cover it up and act as if nothing had happened. (…) She must take full responsibility for her lack of attention and support at the time. She acted in her own interest and not in that of her employee who was attacked at her workplace”, comments Lisa Brinkworth, who says she had to remain silent for twenty years.

It was only when a journalist from the Guardian obtained a video of the moment after Lisa Brinkworth’s attack that the latter decided to speak about what she had experienced.

The imposed silence, an “insurmountable obstacle”

It is precisely this element which could, hopes Me Anne-Claire Le Jeune, bring the request to the prosecution. Unable to file a complaint in the face of pressure from her company, but also after receiving death threats, Lisa Brinkworth faced, according to them, an “insurmountable obstacle” at the material time. This could justify an extension of the limitation period, and therefore to keep the investigation open, explains Me Le Jeune.

“There is quite a bit of case law concerning this type of case. But in Lisa’s case, there were real threats, both to her life and to her physical integrity. These are objective elements,” said the lawyer, optimistic.

His client notably had to make a long stay in a “safe house”, a place kept secret to allow the victims to be protected from threatening people.

For the defense of Gérald Marie, on the contrary, this justification is inadmissible. “It’s a totally absurd argument. Lisa Brinkworth is denouncing a sexual assault that allegedly took place in 1998, at a time when the prescription was 3 years. However, the agreement reached with the BBC, to which she was never party, dates from 2001. Why did she not act before this date? Lisa Brinkworth seeks to circumvent clear and precise laws”, declares to BFMTV.com Me Céline Bekerman, for whom it is “unlikely” the request is successful.

Hope for more recent testimonials

“This approach, Lisa Brinkworth is doing it more in the name of the group than for her alone. Even if the other reports are too old, the investigation could one day lead to a trial”, details Me Anne-Claire Le Jeune. Her client effectively continues her fight by gathering around her the testimonies of other alleged victims, within the Victorious Angels collective. “Through this work, we hope to protect future generations of women and children,” she concludes.

But for their words to have a real impact, however, new voices must be raised, specifies Me Le Jeune. Those of victims who have suffered more recent abuse, and whose word would escape prescription.

And the lawyer has hope, counting on the mechanisms of free speech. In the Jean-Luc Brunel file, alleged tout of young teenage girls who acted on behalf of Jeffrey Epstein, the preliminary investigation initially included only testimony relating to prescribed facts. However, these first speeches had the effect of a detonator: victims of non-prescribed facts decided to testify in turn, recalls Me Anne-Claire Le Jeune.

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“On this type of file, we can see that often a single woman does not feel able to denounce the facts. It is the strength of numbers that facilitates the freedom of speech.”

Original article published on BFMTV.com

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