France Establishes its First Legal Age of Consent

Anamika Dutta ‘20

Chief Culture Editor

 

The words “Me Too” have sparked a nationwide movement to address sexual assault and violence against women; however, other countries have been slower to catch on. In France, recent rape cases against minors have caused the country to examine its current laws (or lack thereof) regarding the age of consent. In the United States, statutory rape laws state that sex with a minor (age varying by state) is rape, as the minor is too young to knowledgeably consent. In sharp contrast, France had no statutory rape laws prior to last month: in order for an adult to go to jail for engaging in sexual activity with a minor, that minor had to thoroughly prove that the situation was non-consensual.

Disgusting, right? Imagine telling a child that he or she cannot get justice because of a lack of “substantial” evidence. In a high-profile case in November of 2017, a 30-year-old man raped an 11-year old girl. However, the man was acquitted with no charges of rape because the girl could not thoroughly prove she was threatened or constrained during the act. Under French law, the minor has to experience “constraint, threat, violence or surprise” in order to prove he or she was raped. National uproar and protests rippled through France, which further escalated after a similar, more recent case involving another 11-year-old girl and a 28-year-old man rose to public attention. This girl and the rapist lived in the same neighborhood. He lured her into his apartment building by claiming that he wanted to show her something, and then raped her. Yet again, the French courts initially failed the needs of the young survivor; the man only faced charges of sexual infractions with a minor, instead of charges of rape. The man’s defense attorneys, Marc Goudarzian and Sandrine Parise-Heideiger, claimed “we are not dealing with a sexual predator on a poor little faultless goose.” Their reasoning? The girl was almost 12, so she must have been capable of consenting. But—maybe due to the extreme backlash surrounding the initial decision—the case has been postponed in order to more thoroughly investigate the situation (and maybe allow the court more time to come to their senses).

In light of these recent cases, President Emmanuel Macron has gone public with setting an official age of consent: 15 years old. This will be the first law in France dictating that anyone who sexually abuses a child under the age of 15 will be charged with rape. The two aforementioned men and hundreds and hundreds more have gotten away with sexually assaulting children for far too long. If an adult engages in sexual activity with a child under 15, that is definitionally coercive and is therefore rape. While the law is long overdue (and many children have suffered due to the delay), it is a step in the right direction of attempting to combat sexual violence and protect the rights of children. Hopefully from now on, French adults who abuse their positions of power will face an appropriate sentence for the severity of their crimes.

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