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French incest victim says world ignored her plight

Published on April 29, 2008

29 April 2008

MEAUX – Frenchwoman Lydia Gouardo was beaten, raped and burned with acid by her father for 28 years, bearing him six children, but the 45-year-old says the world turned a blind eye to her ordeal.

As Austria reels from the horrific discovery that a 73-year-old man locked up his daughter for 24 years and fathered her seven children, an eerily similar case went this month before a French court of appeal.

From the ages of eight to 36, Gouardo was tortured and repeatedly raped by Raymond Gouardo, her legal though not biological father, bearing him six children, without setting off alarm bells in the village of Crecy-la-Chapelle, east of Paris.

She says the abuse – which came to light after her father’s death in 1999 – started the day her stepmother plunged her in a scalding bath, inflicting third-degree burns that forced her to be taken out of school.

In an interview broadcast Tuesday on French radio RTL, Gouardo said she was raped "in the morning, in the evening and the night" in full knowledge of her stepmother who simply asked her husband to "get on with it".

Years later, when she tried to run away from her abusive home, she says her father started to burn her with hydrochloric acid, on the legs, arms and stomach, in punishment.

Yet as in the case of Austrian Josef Fritzl, neither neighbours, teachers nor social services thought to raise the alarm, despite the young woman’s pregnancies and repeated spells in hospital for injury.

She says she was tied down for months during her first pregnancy, at the age of 19, to prevent her from seeking an abortion, and was each time taken into hospital by her father to give birth "at the very last moment".

"One day the midwife asked who the father was, and he said ‘I am’. No one said a word," Gouardo told RTL.

In April, an appeal court toughened the sentence handed to Gouardo’s step-mother at the original trial in March 2007, handing her a four-year suspended prison sentence for failing to prevent decades of abuse.

Today, Gouardo lives in a tumble-down farmhouse in the town of Coulommes, east of Paris, with seven of her nine children.

Barely literate, unemployed, she hides her burn scars under long-sleeved clothes – but says she is happy to have survived.

"When I think of what I’ve been through, I wonder how it’s possible. Every day when I open the front door, I take a deep breath.

"I live from day to day. But I love life. When people complain, I say life is beautiful," she told RTL.

"I am fighting back now. When a bill comes through the door, I am happy. I am here, I exist."

[AFP / Expatica]