Sexual assaults in the army: testimony from Ninon who has returned her uniform.

The TV show “Envoyé spécial” recently highlighted the distress of victims of sexual violence who claim that the army turned a blind eye to their testimonies, even going as far as discouraging them from continuing their careers within the armed forces. Ninon Mathey, one of these victims, denounces the lack of listening and support from her superiors after alerting them to the assaults she endured. Her brave testimony sheds light on the flaws in the victim protection system within the military.

“My major …” These strong words were taken from a letter written by Ninon Mathey to her superior. In it, she reveals the sexual assault she claims to have experienced within her regiment. A letter to which she claims to have never received a response.

This young woman’s journey had started well when she enlisted at the age of 21 in an artillery regiment. She graduated top of her class after three months of training. She recounts that a brigadier made advances towards her, questioned her about her intimate life, and committed acts of sexual assault.

The assault, “an endless torture”

One evening, in an isolated place, he called out to her. Following his instructions, Ninon sat down next to him, remaining vigilant. She recounts: “In a flash, he grabbed my ankles, dragged me to the ground, and sat down, at the same time pulling me towards him. It happened like that, and I kept telling him ‘No, no, no,’ ‘Brigadier, let go of me, I just want to go to bed’.”

But her assailant persisted, trying to touch her, to kiss her, until “putting his hand between my legs over my shorts and touching me”. Ninon remembers “living through an endless torture”.

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Four complaints dismissed

Ninon immediately spoke to her female military comrades and discovered that three other young women had also been subjected to sexual violence by the same brigadier. Together, they initially decided to remain silent, fearing for their careers. However, a few weeks later, one of them confided in her superiors. Four complaints were filed with the police, including one for rape. They were dismissed due to insufficient evidence, like the vast majority of complaints for sexual violence.

From the army’s side, Ninon and her comrades were listened to. The brigadier received a disciplinary sanction, but he remained in his position. She could encounter him at any moment. Not feeling safe in this regiment, she stayed at home on sick leave … isolated, traumatized. Six months after the assault described by Ninon Mathey, she claims to have received a document at home, announcing the end of her contract. Ninon Mathey contested the termination of this contract, and she won. However, in 2023, after being declared unfit for service by a doctor, she definitively returned her uniform.

When contacted, the Ministry of the Armed Forces informed “Envoyé spécial” that the sanction imposed on the brigadier was under reassessment. They specified: “The minister, by instruction of March 26, reaffirmed the fundamental principles: to protect the victim, systematically inform the public prosecutor, and severely punish the perpetrator.” The ministry also stated that since the instruction, 29 reports had been made to the public prosecutor, with 13 suspensions issued (compared to zero previously). An instruction will soon be signed to establish a comprehensive and sustainable program to combat sexual and sexist violence, they added.

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Excerpt from “End of the silence in the ranks,” a report to be discovered in “Envoyé spécial” on June 13, 2024.


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