“Sambre, radioscopy of a news item” or indifference towards sexual violence against women

This is perhaps the proof of a book that recounts a news item brilliantly: knowing, from the first pages, the outcome (the perpetrator of the crimes, and his sentence) and yet finishing the reading, panting, as if we had just discovered the story.

Dino Scala was found guilty on June 10, 2022 of having committed 54 sexual assaults and rapes between 1988 and 2018 by the North Assize Court. He was sentenced to a twenty-year prison term. The story of the audiences, including Alice Géraud, freelance journalist (after a long career at “Liberation”, then at Les Jours, which she co-founded) and fiction scriptwriter, did not miss a minute, opens “Sambre, radioscopy of a news item”, thanks to a scene which, we will understand three hundred pages later, says it all. Under the author’s sensitive pen, we see a 75-year-old old lady come to the bar, who recounts how thirty years earlier, one morning in October 1991, she was sexually assaulted by a man while she was on her way to work as a cleaner in a school in Maubeuge. She was the first of the 56 victims (two were not recognized by the courts) of Dino Scala. At the bar, however, the suspicious questions of the president of the assize court cause the collapse of the victim, who ends up crying and throwing: “But… am I the accused?” »

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Dino Scala, the “rapist of the Sambre”, sentenced to 20 years in prison


The power of “Sambre” lies in the approach adopted by Alice Géraud: telling, behind the sprawling investigation which culminated, on February 26, 2018, in the arrest of Dino Scala, the mistakes, sometimes the shipwreck, of police institutions and judicial. Not of all its actors, of course, since thanks to the stubbornness of a few actors (including the police commander of Lille Franck Martins) the “serial rapist” was arrested. It is rather the total passivity of these institutions (in the 1980s, MeToo is still very far away) in the face of the sexual dimension of the attacks which is perfectly highlighted by “Sambre. Alice Géraud, whose meticulous work did not stop with the reading of the court documents, recounts how very many complaints were qualified as “violence”, even “light violence”, even though the women attacked had told to the gendarmes or the police the precise gestures of Scala which left no doubt about his objective: to sexually assault them. “He fondled her breasts”writes an inspector on a report of a few lines about one of the first seven complaints. “All that remains of these sexual assaults three decades later are a few minutes found in the separate archives of the police and the gendarmerie. Justice has kept no trace of it., writes Alice Géraud. Move around, there is nothing (or not much) to see, in short.

This initial posture will irrigate the whole affair. We go back in time, punctuated by these lives of women shattered by Scala’s attacks, but also by the indifference they face. The police and justice are so floundering that the local press barely gets wind of the existence of a serial rapist. He is almost only a rumour, a ghost that is nevertheless very real in the memory of these women. The examining magistrates follow one another, almost always young magistrates fresh out of the National School of the Judiciary and parachuted into the court of Avesnes-sur-Helpe for their first post. We read with amazement the testimony of Charlène who, in 2008 again, came out shattered after the barrage of questions from a doubtful police officer on the reality of the attack recounted by the young woman. “If it turns out that you lied, the magistrate can prosecute you”, asserts the policewoman. At the trial, in 2022, Franck Martins, the commissioner who carried out the investigation, expressed his ” shame “ and apologized to Charlene, “in the name of the police”.

Trial of the “rapist of the Sambre”: 30 years of police and judicial errors and 56 victims

In the end, far beyond the news item, “Sambre” tells a deep social phenomenon, better known since MeToo: indifference towards sexual violence against women. And, between the chapters which recount this slow and laborious hunt, Alice Géraud depicts, in very short passages, the life of Dino Scala: that of an ordinary man, described by those close to him as a good father and a good husband, a worker in a factory, president of a football club. The story of a predator who lived among his prey, in general indifference.

Sambre, radioscopy of a news item, by Alice Géraud, ed. JC Lattes, 400 p., 21.50 euros. Released January 11.

“Sambre, radioscopy of a news item” or indifference towards sexual violence against women