French deputy speaker resigns over sexual assault allegations
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A deputy speaker of France’s parliament, Denis Baupin, handed in his resignation Monday following accusations of sexual assault and harassment reported in the French press.
Baupin handed in his resignation shortly after the speaker, Claude Bartolone, summoned him over the sexual assault allegations and "asked him to resign”, according to a National Assembly statement released Monday.
The disgraced French politician – a former member of the Europe Ecology-Greens party, known by the French acronym EELV (Europe Écologie-Les Verts) – has denied the accusations, calling them “false, derogatory and completely unfounded”.
In a statement published on Baupin’s official website, his lawyer said he had resigned from his post as deputy speaker to “protect the institutions of the Republic and to defend himself”.
Baupin, however, did not surrender his seat as an elected member of the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament.
'Hundreds of indecent texts'
His shock resignation came shortly after France Inter public radio station and investigative news site Mediapart published testimonies by a number of female EELV members accusing the French politician of systematic sexual assault and harassment.
The allegations date as far back as the late 1990s and include accusations that Baupin had sent hundreds of indecent SMS text messages and had attempted to grope and kiss female colleagues.
In an audio clip posted on Mediapart, Green party spokeswoman Sandrine Rousseau recounted that as she was leaving a meeting room in October 2011 Baupin approached her in the corridor, “flattened me against the wall, held my chest and tried to kiss me”.
A former EELV deputy, Isabelle Attard, said she regularly received inappropriate, sexually explicit SMS text messages from June 2012 until she resigned from the party due to political differences in December 2013.
"It was an almost daily harassment involving offensive and obscene SMS messages ... and it was mostly when we were in the assembly, between Tuesdays and Thursdays," said Attard.
Mediapart also reported that there was a culture of silence within the party, even though Baupin’s predatory behavior was well known.
A number of female staffers were advised to lock their office doors if they had to work late at night while Baupin was on the premises, or were told not to get into an elevator alone with him.
The EELV is in a coalition with France’s ruling Socialist Party and has been hit by a number of defections following deep divisions over the party’s support for French President François Hollande. Baupin resigned from the party last month over an unrelated issue but had continued in his position as parliamentary deputy speaker until his resignation Monday.
'We could not remain silent'
The accusations against Baupin have once again shined a spotlight on sexual harassment by French politicians, previously highlighted by the resignation of former IMF chief and Socialist politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn over assault allegations.
Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York in 2011 after being accused of sexual assault by hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo. He later reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount with his accuser.
In the wake of Diallo’s allegations, French journalist Tristane Banon filed a lawsuit in Paris alleging that the Socialist politician attempted to rape her during a 2002 interview. The charges in the Banon case were later dropped because the three-year statute of limitations had run out.
The Strauss-Kahn accusations triggered a wave of national soul-searching in France over sex and secrecy in public life.
In May 2015, a group of female political journalists published a column in French daily Libération in which they denounced the inappropriate comments and routine harassment they encountered on the job. The column provided specific examples of sexual harassment but did not identify any politicians by name.
A Twitter post by Baupin on March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day helped trigger the latest public accusations against the 53-year-old politician.
The photograph of Baupin and other colleagues wearing lipstick in support of a campaign highlighting violence against women convinced Elen Debost, assistant mayor of the central French city of Le Mans, to go public.
"I saw him in the photo with red lipstick and it made me really sick,” Debost told France Inter. “I thought we could not remain silent, because by keeping silent, we were accomplices to a practice that continues."
Baupin has often presented himself as a defender of women’s rights. In a July 2012 tweet he welcomed a vote on a law against sexual harassment that was aimed at encouraging victims to come forward. "Proud to participate in this vote for justice," he tweeted.
Before Monday’s reports in Mediapart and France Inter, none of the women concerned had filed any official complaints against Baupin, with a number of female party officials telling Mediapart it was because they feared for their jobs.
Baupin is married to France’s minister of housing, Emmanuelle Cosse.
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