A week after French incest victims took to Twitter to break the country's taboo on inter-family sexual abuse, male gay victims of sexual violence have followed suit by using the #MeTooGay hashtag to speak out about abuse they have never before dared to share for fear it would trigger a homophobic backlash against France's already vulnerable LGBT+ community.
"I was 11, and had the body of a child. He was 16-and-a-half and had the body of an adult. It started with blackmail. Then by forced penetrations, humiliations, and disgust as my body entered puberty. It lasted for 6 years."
Since Thursday, Twitter has seen an outpouring of heartbreaking testimonies like these from French gay men who have finally chosen to break the silence on the abuse they suffered as children, young men, or even as adults.
The public declarations come on the heels of the publication this month of a book accusing prominent French intellectual Olivier Duhamel of sexually abusing his step-son.
The revelations, which led to a preliminary investigation into the case and to Duhamel's resignation from several prestigious posts, helped break the French taboo on incest, with the creation of a #MeTooInceste hashtag, and has since also lifted the lid on other hushed subjects, such as sexual abuse targeting male gays.
Flora Bolter, co-director of the Paris-based rights group l'Observatoire LGBT+ de la Fondation Jean Jaurès, told FRANCE 24 that many gay victims of sexual abuse have felt forced to stay silent about their experiences for fear it would cause a backlash against the LBGT+ community itself.
"We're [already] experiencing strong discrimination because people have this shortcut of stereotyping, and linking LGBT persons to sexual predators," she said.
"So it's always been very difficult to broach and address the question of sexual violence within the LGBT+ community because there has been this fear of speaking out and [thereby] fuelling homophobia."
'No one believed me'
Matthieu Foucher, a French journalist who already in September published an article calling for the creation of a #MeTooGay hashtag under which male gay victims of sexual abuse would feel safe to finally come forward, was one of the first to share his story on Twitter.
"I was 10 or 11. No one believed me when I told them. It partially messed up my teens and my family, [and] delayed my coming out for I don't know how many years. It's taken me years to be able to talk about it."
Others also testified about the difficulty of speaking out about such abuse as a gay male man. "It's so hard to talk about. It's so hard when you're raised amid homophobia, when you have to fight to be who you are, when you try to create a safe space for yourself, and then find yourself a victim all over again," Twitter-user Matthias Parveau wrote.
Alexandre Rupnik, a local politician in Marseille, shared how he had been abused in a dark staircase in France's second largest city in 2018 but had chosen to never report it to police "because it felt useless, I was convinced I would never be listened to because I don't fit the image of a victim of sexual violence."
Harsh climate in France
In her interview with FRANCE 24, Bolter said that the climate for French male gays is harder than in many western English-speaking countries, not the least because not enough effort is made to collect reliable data on the subject. "There's also much more done in terms of procedures and practices - in the UK there are helplines for male survivors of sexual violence - that we do not have in France."
Bolter welcomed the use of the hashtag saying "we're just now breaking the surface of this silence and this taboo."
French rights group SOS Homophobie has hailed the flood of testimonies that have come to light since the creation of the #MeTooGay hashtag, saying it "marks a necessary liberation of speech for victims of sexual violence. These people need to be listened to, and protected."