Retired French surgeon faces more than 300 paedophilia and abuse charges

Paris: A retired French surgeon has been charged with the rape and sexual assault of more than 300 people, a vast majority of whom were under 15, in what could be France's biggest-ever paedophilia and sexual abuse case.

Joel Le Scouarnec, 70, a specialist in abdominal surgery, is accused of having abused 312 people over three decades at several hospitals in central and western France. Authorities said details about the identities of the victims, whose average age was 11, were included in private diaries kept by Le Scouarnec, where he described at length the sexual abuses he is accused of perpetrating. Fewer than 50 were adults.

"It is an unusual case to say the least, correctly described as extraordinary, both because of the number of its victims and the conditions that led to the exposure of the crimes," Stephane Kellenberger, the state prosecutor in charge of the case, told reporters on Thursday.

Le Scouarnec had already been charged with sexual abuse of minors in 2017, a case that led investigators to discover the diaries.

The public prosecutor's office had initially identified 343 potential victims but eventually dismissed 31 cases because the statute of limitations had lapsed or for lack of evidence. Among the remaining 312 people, all thought to have been abused between 1986 and 2014, about 100 were most likely raped and about 200 sexually assaulted, Kellenberg said.

France recently toughened laws against sex crimes and extended the statute of limitations for rape against a minor to 30 years from 20 years.

"We are faced with the paedophilia case of the century, because of the personality of the perpetrator and because of the facts," said Francesca Satta, a lawyer representing about 20 accusers in the case.

Le Scouarnec was first arrested in 2017 after a 6-year-old girl living in his neighbourhood reported him to her parents.

That led to an investigation on sexual abuses committed against four underage girls between 1989 and 2017. Le Scouarnec is in prison awaiting trial.

What investigators did not anticipate, however, was that a search of Le Scouarnec's home as part of this first investigation revealed much more than expected: Along with 1-metre-tall dolls and child pornography images, police officers said they found diaries recounting Le Scouarnec's sexual encounters with scores of children.

The children were, most of the time, abused in a hospital, while under anesthetic substances, sedation and other medical treatments, Kellenberg said.

For help in a crisis call 000. If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

The New York Times

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