Former soldier breaks 'code of silence' over sexual violence in French Foreign Legion

By Sophie Boutboul

Alex Held, who joined France's iconic fighting force in 2015, made a formal complaint in December 2019 following the unwanted physical advances of a superior. The former legionnaire, an American, is still seeing a psychiatrist and is taking anti-depressants as a result of his ordeal. The Legion insists that it has “heavily punished” the warrant officer concerned plus two others accused of having failed to raise the alarm. But the punishment administered is at the lower end of those available in a fighting force which sees itself as the “height of virility”. Sophie Boutboul reports.

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One of the first phrases that ex-corporal Alex Held learned when he joined the French Foreign Legion in 2015 was “pas vu, pas pris”, which can be loosely translated as 'if you don't get seen, you won't get caught'. Unfortunately for the young American soldier, this old saying came back to haunt him when he made a formal complaint to his superiors that his immediate boss, warrant officer Antal A., had repeatedly tried to touch and kiss him in 2018 and 2019.