- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

ANGERS, France — France opened one of its most horrific trials yesterday, with 66 persons accused of participating in a pedophile ring in which babies and children were raped, sexually abused and prostituted by their parents for food and small sums of money.

The defendants, some facing life imprisonment, were brought before a court in Angers, western France, that was specially built to hold them.

One by one, the 39 men and 27 women were asked to stand and give their age, occupation and address.

Investigators say 45 children — from 6 months to 14 years old — were raped and sexually abused from 1999 to 2002 by their parents or others who paid money or offered food.

People who are thought to have worn masks while they raped the children still are feared to be at large.

“The children speak of one tattooed woman who is not in the defendants’ dock,” said Pascal Rouiller, an attorney for five suspects.

The victims will not appear in court; their testimony has been videotaped.

Many of the defendants are from low-income households in the working class Saint-Leonard neighborhood of Angers, 165 miles southwest of Paris. Some reportedly were abused themselves as children.

Three couples thought to be at the heart of the ring lured their children and those of their relatives “to play doctor” with the adults, the newspaper Le Monde reported. One young girl reportedly was raped 45 times.

Psychological counseling was being offered to the jurors and the six judges to help them cope with sordid testimony expected from the trial, which is scheduled to last four months.

Defense attorneys planned to argue that government social workers, who worked with many of the suspects, failed in their responsibilities or turned a blind eye to signs of abuse.

Some of the defendants cited in the 420-page legal filing are illiterate and don’t fully understand the charges against them, attorneys said.

In French trials, defendants do not plead guilty or not guilty at the start of proceedings. But court officials said that about half of the accused had admitted their involvement during questioning.

Three persons face life imprisonment if convicted of raping children younger than 15 and of active participation in the prostitution ring.

Thirty-six persons face 20 years in prison for similar charges.

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