Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Outreau affair was a child sex-abuse scandal that became a legal scandal. After social services alerted French prosecutors to suspected child sexual abuse, Thierry and Myriam Delay were tried for abusing their four children. The Delays admitted guilt and also implicated neighbors, creating fears of a pedophile network. Years later, cases against most of the accused, who had been incarcerated for up to thirty months while awaiting trial, were dismissed on appeal. The scandal led to major legal reform in France.

Summary of Event

The discovery and investigation of a suspected pedophile and sex-abuse ring by authorities in Outreau, France, in December, 2000, filled the French public with horror and rage over allegations of the sexual abuse of children. Public condemnation soon shifted from the accused to the French justice system itself, in which many of the defendants were imprisoned for long stretches of time and tried based on little evidence and admittedly false accusations. The child sex-abuse scandal and the reported injustices that occurred during the investigation and trial came to be known as the Outreau affair and brought France’s long-standing judicial system under scrutiny. [kw]Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair (Dec., 2000) [kw]Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair, Sexual Abuse of (Dec., 2000) [kw]Outreau Affair, Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the (Dec., 2000) Child abuse;in France[France] Outreau affair Delay, Myriam Delay, Thierry Rape;of children[children] Pedophilia;and Outreau affair[Outreau affair] Child abuse;in France[France] Outreau affair Delay, Myriam Delay, Thierry Rape;of children[children] Pedophilia;and Outreau affair[Outreau affair] [g]Europe;Dec., 2000: Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair[03030] [g]France;Dec., 2000: Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair[03030] [c]Law and the courts;Dec., 2000: Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair[03030] [c]Families and children;Dec., 2000: Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair[03030] [c]Social issues and reform;Dec., 2000: Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair[03030] [c]Sex crimes;Dec., 2000: Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair[03030] [c]Public morals;Dec., 2000: Sexual Abuse of Children in France Leads to the Outreau Affair[03030] Delplanque, David Grenon, Aurelie Burgaud, Fabrice

Defendants Thierry and Myriam Delay in court in June, 2004, in Saint-Omer, France.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Outreau child sex-abuse case began when social-service workers and teachers became concerned over the sexualized behaviors of Thierry and Myriam Delay’s four children. Suspecting sexual abuse, social services staff contacted law enforcement about their observations. The Delay children were taken from their parents, placed in foster care, and questioned. The children told investigators that they were forced to perform sexual acts and watch Pornography;child pornographic films, and that they were molested and raped by their parents as well as some of their neighbors. Between 2001 and 2003, the children’s testimonies as well as Myriam Delay’s own allegations against others in the Outreau community led to an increase in the number of accused.

As the investigations came to a close, eighteen people had been charged with rape, Torture torture, and the perpetration of barbaric acts against eighteen children, ages three to twelve, in a period of five years. Although pornographic material and sex toys had been confiscated from the Delay residence, the presence of physical evidence of child sex-abuse remained scarce. The majority of evidence gathered for the trial included, primarily, the psychological evaluations and testimonies of the children allegedly involved. The children were once again removed from the custody of their parents during the investigation and trial, and the accused were ordered to pretrial detention. One of the accused committed suicide by drug overdose after enduring over one year of pretrial incarceration. A total of seventeen adults were scheduled to go to trial over the sex-abuse allegations.

Under a firestorm of media coverage, the Outreau trial began in May, 2004, under the direction of a young magistrate, Fabrice Burgaud. In addition to the shocking stories of abuse detailed by the children, more evidence against the seventeen accused surfaced during Myriam Delay’s testimony. She confessed that she and her husband, Thierry Delay, sexually abused their children from 1995 to 2000. She also implicated her neighbors as participants in the abuse, and she explained that her own sexual victimization as a child influenced her decision to abuse her own children. The Delay’s neighbors, David Delplanque and Aurelie Grenon, also confessed that they had sexually abused the Delay children.

Three critical developments changed the mood of the trial in November, 2004. First, Myriam Delay and Grenon retracted their statements about the criminal involvement of the other defendants. Second, Myriam Delay and Grenon were found to have fabricated parts of their testimonies. Third, the children’s stories began to conflict with their own prior statements. Furthermore, the Delay children’s stories were viewed with even more uncertainty because they also showed signs of psychological and emotional distress. Skepticism over the entire trial followed these revelations.

Nevertheless, Thierry and Myriam Delay were convicted of child abuse and rape and were sentenced to twenty and fifteen years, respectively, in prison. Delplanque and Grenon also were convicted of child abuse and rape and were sentenced to six and four years, respectively. Of the remaining thirteen defendants, seven were acquitted and released from pretrial detention while the remaining six were found guilty of child abuse. Great uncertainty over their guilt circulated until the accused appealed their convictions.

The Outreau appeals trial began on December 1, 2005, and lasted one day only. All six defendants were cleared of the charges against them. One leading reason the charges were dismissed was Myriam Delay’s confession of falsely implicating her neighbors. Another reason was the weak physical and psychological evidence of sexual abuse coupled with the contradictory accounts of the children.

Impact

In the short term, the closure of the Outreau appeals trial marked the end of the five-year-long Outreau affair. However, in addition to affecting the children emotionally and physically, the scandal left a lasting scar on the acquitted, the public, and the French judicial system, which lost the public’s confidence. Demands for legal reform followed the appeals trial.

Through detailed news coverage, the public soon learned about the pretrial mistreatment of the defendants, including coerced confessions and personal losses. The media also revealed that the accused had been detained for long periods of time, some up to thirty months, before trial, were denied access to their children, and lost their jobs, marriages, and reputations. One of the defendants committed suicide prior to the trial. Outrage flared over France’s pretrial detention procedures, which mandated that accused persons can remain in pretrial incarceration for up to five years. Magistrate Burgaud’s inexperience as a trial judge was cited as a factor in why the case was poorly handled. Other factors were the contradictory roles and limitations placed on magistrates by the French justice system.

After the appeals ruling, French president Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, and Justice Minister Pascal Clément made an unprecedented apology to the wrongfully accused and promised judicial reform. In January, 2006, the French parliament ordered an investigation into the ineffective, embarrassing, and damaging legal proceedings of the case, considered a “judicial disaster” by Chirac and a “judiciary shipwreck” by others. Child abuse;in France[France] Outreau affair Delay, Myriam Delay, Thierry Rape;of children[children] Pedophilia;and Outreau affair[Outreau affair]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bremner, Charles. “Outrage over Innocent Thirteen Jailed in Sex Abuse Scandal.” The Times (London), January 20, 2006. Examines how the controversial events of the Outreau affair and the treatment of the accused during the investigations and trial prompted a government inquiry into law enforcement practices and the operations of the French judicial system.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Exit Napoleon: The French Judicial System (The Outreau Affair).” The Economist, February 11, 2006. Offers a detailed account of the Outreau affair, pretrial events, the results of the trial and appeals, and the public’s demand for change in France’s justice system.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hodgson, Jacqueline. “The Detention and Interrogation of Suspects in Police Custody in France: A Comparative Account.” European Journal of Criminology 1, no. 2 (April, 2004): 163-199. An empirical study of the treatment of criminal suspects by French police before trial. A good source for any study of the French criminal justice system in the context of legal and judicial reform, especially reform demanded following the Outreau scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. French Criminal Justice: A Comparative Account of the Investigation and Prosecution of Crime in France. Portland, Oreg.: Hart, 2005. A study of the French criminal justice system that includes discussion of the scandalous Outreau affair in the context of French law. Like Hodgson’s 2004 study, this work is based on empirical research.

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