Paris police are investigating accusations by 26 women that a street artist in the historic Montmartre neighbourhood raped or sexually assaulted them, in what their lawyers describe as a systematic, years-long pattern of targeting and manipulating teen girls and young women.
The artist-photographer has not yet been questioned by police and says he has “never hit anyone, never raped anyone,” his lawyer said Wednesday.
The women were between 16 and 26 at the time of the alleged encounters, which occurred between 2009 and April this year, according to a judicial official. The artist-photographer is identified in legal documents as Wilfrid A.
Lawyers for the accusers say he preyed on teens and young women in his lively neighbourhood or on social networks, complimented them and offered to take modelling photos.
Once in his photo studio — which turned out to be his apartment — he allegedly plied them with alcohol or drugs and pressured the women into sex, said lawyer Valentine Reberioux, who is representing 25 of the women accusing him.
Of the 26 women pressing charges, 12 accused him of rape, and 14 accused him of sexual assault, the judicial official said. A preliminary investigation was opened Tuesday, according to the official, who was not authorized to be publicly named.
Reberioux said the girls and women didn’t report the encounters to police at the time out of fear that they wouldn’t be believed, or that he would publish nude photos of them, or because they felt responsible for allowing themselves to be abused and manipulated.
“His plan was perfect,” Reberioux told The Associated Press. “It’s his modus operandi.”
The artist was detained twice in the past for similar accusations, in 2016 and 2019, but released without charge, according to his lawyer Joseph Cohen-Sabban.
Cohen-Sabban said he can’t respond to the latest accusations until he and his client have details about the women’s identities and dates of the encounters.
“We don’t know what he is being accused of,” Cohen-Sabban said, adding that all the women the artist photographed “agreed to go with him.”
Wilfrid’s distinctive art adorns several spots around Paris, bearing his signature phrase “L’amour court les rues," meaning “Love runs the streets.” Some of his work was covered in graffiti, replacing the word “love” with “rapist.”
The accusations come as women’s rights groups are protesting French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision this week to appoint a man who is facing a rape investigation as interior minister, and a lawyer who has ridiculed the MeToo movement as justice minister.
Macron and his prime minister have defended the staffing choices. Protests were held in Paris on Tuesday and more are planned around France on Friday.