Interview: Karine Isambert speaks out about French media leaks in Luc Besson and Chris Brown rape investigations
Last week, the identity of the woman who filed a criminal complaint in Paris against rapper Chris Brown, was leaked online. In May 2018, Sand Van Roy’s name was leaked to the media within 24 hours after she filed a criminal complaint concerning rape against filmmaker Luc Besson. The pattern? Van Roy filed a complaint in the same police district in Paris, France.
Karine Isambert is one of the 8 women who have spoken out against filmmaker Luc Besson to support Sand Van Roy. In this interview with Karine we discuss sexual violence and leaking of confidential police information to the French media, and why nobody is talking about it. PhotoandGrime has also spoken with the woman who accused Chris Brown, and actress Sand Van Roy.
In an interview with BFM TV, former model Karine Isambert - who now has her own production company - shared her story on camera. Karine describes Luc Besson as a ‘powerful man, who uses blackmail in a professional context’. She was interviewed by the French police to share her own experience with Besson after actress Sand Van Roy filed multiple criminal complaints concerning rape.
In 1995, Karine met with Besson for an audition. The meeting was at a hotel. While Besson was going through her portfolio, he made inappropriate comments according to Karine. When he invited her to dinner, she declined, after which according to her Besson said “Yeah, but if we don't have dinner it's going to be difficult to hire you because I need to feel desire for my actress and I need to fall in love with my actress." She states that when they said goodbye, Luc Besson grabbed her bottom and kissed her very closely to the lips. She never heard from him again after this incident.
Twenty-three years later, Karine reveals her experience publicly. She’s not surprised many women have come forward to talk about Luc Besson, and has decided she wants to dedicate her life more to empowering women.
You had the courage to talk publicly about your own experience with Luc Besson, after Sand Van Roy’s rape case against the filmmaker became public. Luc Besson has denied the accusations against him. What was your initial reaction when you read about Sand's experiences with Luc Besson in the media?
Karine: “I wasn’t surprised at all. One year after my ‘casting’ with Besson, I met an American model who told me she was traumatised by him. She was preparing a role with Besson for several months and told me he was very rude and harassed her sexually, and that she eventually gave up the job because of it. It seems that when it comes to his victims, sexual harassment and sexual assault is the main issue for the women. When it comes to men, it seems to concern plagiarism. However, I have also recently been informed about a woman who claims Besson plagiarised her as well."
Could you tell me more about the accusations concerning Luc Besson and plagiarism?
Karine: “Luc Besson has had lawsuits against him for plagiarism. He won the majority of them, but not all. The woman I just mentioned hasn’t gone public yet.”
You testified your experiences with Luc Besson to the police to support Sand Van Roy. In which police station in Paris were you questioned?
Karine: “I was questioned at police station 1er (1er District de Police Judiciaire, 1er, 2e, 3e, 4e, 8e, 9e, 16e, 17ème arrondissements). The building at boulevard Bessières (75017 Paris).”
Sand Van Roy was questioned at the same location you visited. Her name was leaked to the press without her consent.
Karine: “I know the leaking does happen...”
This month, rapper Chris Brown has been accused of rape in Paris. Brown has denied the woman’s story and claims she’s lying. It seems that the woman who filed a criminal complaint against Brown filed it at 1er DPJ as well. The name of this woman, was leaked on social media days after she filed a report.
Karine: “This is quite shocking to hear and rather curious..."
The leaking is strange considering two women filed criminal complaints against powerful men in the same Parisian police district and both women saw their identities revealed online.
PhotoandGrime has been in touch with the woman who filed a criminal complaint against Chris Brown and is following the case closely. She confirmed to us she filed a complaint against the police and stated her photo was leaked:
“I saw my picture circulating everywhere on social media, with nasty and horrible comments beneath it, while I expected my privacy would be protected. I am a victim of double rape, my life has turned upside down the last few days. I have trouble to resume my studies. I feel exhausted after everything that happened to me.”
- Woman who accused Chris Brown. Her identity is known to PhotoandGrime.
Actress Sand Van Roy has confirmed to me she had never heard of this woman’s name before she learned about the accusations against Brown. Chris Brown - a black man - was arrested on the spot and questioned, unlike Luc Besson, a white man. This while Sand Van Roy had a rape-kit done on the same day when she filed a report.
Did you know Tariq Ramadan - an Islamic scholar and muslim - was held in jail between February 2018 and December 2018, while he was being investigated on rape charges brought by multiple women? He was recently released on bail after convincing judges he was not a flight-threat. He must report to police in the Paris area once a week now. Luc Besson however still hasn’t been arrested while the police investigation regarding him has been going on since May 2018.
Karine: “I've just realised that, this doesn’t sound normal at all..”
Meanwhile, a rape trial against two Parisian police officers, went to trial this month, 5 years after a Canadian tourist said they raped her at the judicial police’s headquarters in Paris.
Karine: “Five years? That's totally incomprehensible.”
It is. Back to Besson - in the BFMTV interview where you supported Sand, you describe how during the casting with Luc Besson, you refused to go out for dinner with him, after which he touched you inappropriately. You never heard from him again after this incident. Do you think Besson blacklisted you after you rejected him?
Karine: “When I told my agent - who arranged the casting - Besson asked me to go for dinner with him, they told me something like “I hope you didn't refuse because you're gonna be blacklisted”. I don't know if he did blacklist me, but after the meeting happened I did receive less bookings. I don’t know if there’s a correlation. Later, a friend-actor said they gave some of my pictures to someone who works with Besson concerning a film-role for Europacorp (Editor’s note: Luc Besson’s film production company). This friend told me this person told him Besson didn't want to work with me, but I don't know if this story is true.”
How have people responded to your testimony to BFMTV?
Karine: “I’ve had a lot of support from friends and some male and female actors, scenarists and others professionals, for example lawyers. American women active in the Time’s Up movement have shown support for Sand Van Roy and the other women who came forward as well. However, there has yet to be a French actress to give the women any support. There seems to be an omertà going on.” (Editor’s note: known among the mafia as a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to the police)
Sand Van Roy told me herself she has been telling many journalists about the leaking of her name, but the majority all leave it out of their articles. Why do you think the French media is barely addressing this side of the story?
Karine: “I don't know exactly. Someone told me the leaking does happen in these situations and this is someone I respect and trust. The person who gave Sand’s name to all journalists could be someone powerful. For the media, it's complex. Besson is still very powerful and has a lot of employees. Considering the omerta in France; I think that a lot of people have known discriminating things about high-profile people for a long time and they probably feel uncomfortable with the fact that they didn't speak out before. As do the victims who stayed silent. They’re scared to speak out because they think nobody would believe them or that they could lose their job. Imagine if an actress was raped by someone in the film industry while she had a partner; she could be scared that her partner could think she was unfaithful, while the victim was actually raped or sexually harassed, and trapped in a situation they felt they couldn’t escape. France has a strong culture and it is an ‘old’ country in an way. Maybe people are not ready to change. But for sure, the majority of the media don't help and if they ‘forget’ to talk about this aspect, which makes them kind of complicit. Sand can be accused to be an opportunist while they know it’s not the case at all. Luckily we have some very good journalists who want to stop this kind of abuse. Marine Turchi of Médiapart for example does incredible work, and the journalist of BFM, Claire Fleury, as well. They're very caring.”
What’s important to you in life?
Karine: “I think that respect is the most important value in life. Respect for nature, respect between people. I think a lot of problems in the world exist because of a lack of respect. We all have to learn and work throughout our lives to improve as human beings and be more respectful. Humanity’s dominating nature is a real problem. To be free, we have to find peace with our consciousness. So respect, freedom en authenticity are very important to me - and carefulness.”
Can you tell us more about your production company?
Karine: “In 2012, I founded my own production company Revenescences, mainly for production of theater. I train professional actors (and aspiring actors) of all ages, help comedians develop and write their shows, and work together with authors who want to adapt their stories into film. I also create short-films, film conferences and book presentations of authors. I’ve started to put more focus on causes related to women as well since I spoke out about Luc Besson. I want to help give women a voice to talk about the injustice they experience in life.”
What’s the story behind your short film Victory?
Karine: “Victory is about the Paris attacks at the end of 2015. I made it for a festival where the theme was ‘the gesture’, and I decided to create a gesture of peace after someone encouraged me to make a video.”
Can you tell me more about Je suis la réconciliation?
Karine: “It’s my second short movie. It's about a woman who seeks reconciliation with men due to her past experiences. She wants to start trusting men again after experiencing trauma.”
Do you have personal experience with sexual violence, and if so, would you be willing to share your experience?
Karine: “I’ve experienced sexual violence a long time ago but in both situations I knew I couldn’t prove there hadn’t been consent. It’s incredibly difficult to prove you were raped if your abuser is someone you know personally. I went to the police after the first assault and was assigned a male police officer. This police officer seemed to victim-blame me and didn’t seem happy I wanted to file a report. He asked me if I was aware that the guy could go 9 years to prison if I did. I felt very uncomfortable and decided not to go ahead with it. The second time a female police officer handled my case. She was very understanding, but at the time I decided again not to go through with it, because I was scared of the consequences to my name and life.”
“I’ve also had many experiences relating to sexual harassment, and situations where I felt like an object. For example, refusing to go out with someone or have sex with them, and then finding out this person is insulting or defaming you behind your back, and when you try to defend yourself, you’re called ‘crazy’. I’ve had such experiences mainly with men, but one time also with a woman, who was an actress/director.”
What advice would you give victims of sexual assault?
Karine: “I think many victims first need to accept the abuse happened and accept their anger about it. They need to accept what happened wasn’t normal. This can be quite difficult, especially when the abuser is a partner for example, and there are kids involved as well. When a victim has to worry about her own family, her job, her own safety, speaking out can be hard. To me it seems many victims don’t go to the police because they’re in shock and scared nobody will support them. The best advice I can give is to go to the police and ask for assistance. If you are a woman and feel more comfortable talking to a woman, request it. All victims deserve support, assistance and justice. Ask for help and communicate what kind of help you need.”
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