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French actress should go to court with harassment claims: minister

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Paris (AFP)

France's justice minister on Wednesday urged actress Adele Haenel to take legal action, days after the film star accused the director who discovered her of sexually harassing her while she was a child.

Haenel, now 30, says director Christophe Ruggia subjected her to "constant sexual harassment" including "forced kisses on the neck" and touching during a three-year spell working on the 2002 film "The Devils".

Lawyers for Ruggia, who has now been expelled from the French Society of Film Directors (SRF), say he "categorically denies" any misconduct.

Making the accusations in an interview with French investigative news site Mediapart that was published on Sunday, Haenel said she would not file a legal complaint because of the "contempt with which the judicial system treats women".

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told France Inter radio Haenel's decision to speak out was "very courageous", but said the actress was "wrong to think that the judiciary is not able to respond to this kind of situation".

Belloubet said it was essential that the issue was dealt with in court, emphasising it would be difficult for prosecutors to launch an investigation without a complaint being made.

"I think that after all she has said, she should take legal action and the judiciary has the capacity to deal with this," she added.

The actress said Ruggia, now 54, "put a system in place to isolate me, to have me at his place every weekend".

She added: "It was a man of nearly 40 who every week got himself into a room with a young girl who was between 12 and 15 and tried to feel her up."

The accusations have rocked the cinema industry in France, which had yet to see a major reckoning from the #MeToo movement that erupted in the wake of the accusations of sexual assault against disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

France's Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard backed Haenel's decision to speak out, saying "your courage is a gift of unparallelled generosity for women and men".

"You are breaking a silence that was so heavy. Yours is a testimony of awesome power," Cotillard wrote on Instagram.

Belloubet insisted the government was working to make it easier for people lodge legal complaints, which can now be done at hospitals or even online.

"It is almost a necessity to put this question to the judicial authorities so that these things can be treated clearly and objectively," she said.

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