Verdicts in Paris gang rape trial due today
Total of 14 defendants will learn their fate today after claims of sex attacks by at least 25 youths on two girls on poor Paris estate
A trial surrounding the alleged gang rape of teenage girls in the high-rise tower blocks of a poor Paris suburb has shocked France.
It has also exposed a culture of youth violence and threatens to cause a row over the justice system when verdicts in the case are delivered today.
Nina and Stephanie - not their real names - said that for years they were too scared to speak out about what they allege were months of almost daily gang rapes when they were 15 and 16.
The abuse went on while they were growing up on run-down estates in Fontenay-sous-Bois outside Paris.
In 2005, Nina was left unconscious by one final, brutal beating and told a female police officer.
Her claims led to a trial that centred on alleged attacks in Fontenay-sous-Bois between 1999 and 2001.
Nina, now 29, told the newspaper Liberation she moved to the housing estate aged seven with her brother and divorced mother. She was described as good at school and a tomboy.
She said she was 16 and a virgin when one night, returning from the cinema, she was grabbed by a group of youths and taken to basement cellars in the flats. There she was raped and subjected to a series of brutal sex attacks by scores of local boys.
The extremely violent, prolonged attacks by large groups of boys continued daily in car parks, stairwells, apartments and the empty playground of a local nursery school.
She said there would be "at least 25" youths present during attacks in which she screamed, protested, cried and vomited. One witness described 50 boys "queuing" to attack her.
She was told her flat would be burned down if she spoke out and was afraid to even tell her mother, who noticed she was washing eight to 10 times a day. Nina, who has put on 70kg since the attacks, described gaining weight as a "shell" behind which she was able to hide.
She allowed herself to be filmed by the media outside the court to encourage other victims to go to the police.
She said: "It was the accused who should hide, not me."
At the start of the trial, the alleged victims were hailed in the media for their bravery. But the jury trial, held behind closed doors because the accused were minors at the time, took place in a tense atmosphere.
One of the alleged victims, Stephanie, tried to kill herself four days into the hearings. Nina, left infirm by the attacks, was overcome and had to leave court.
The 14 men on trial, now aged between 29 and 33 - many of them married with families and jobs, including one ambulance driver - deny rape. Some of them said sex took place but was consensual and that the alleged victims "liked sex".
The women's lawyers complained that some had dismissed the alleged victims as "liars or nymphomaniacs".
Reports by psychiatric experts concurred that the women had been sexually attacked.
The defendants, if found guilty, could face a maximum of 20 years in prison, but the state prosecutor this week recommended prison sentences of between five and seven years for eight of them, all minors at the time of the attack.
For six others, the prosecutor said there was a "doubt", without elaborating. The women's lawyers said they were shocked by the sentence recommendations.
One further suspect is on the run, another committed suicide in 2004 and three others will be tried in different courts.