France’s "cour de cassation", the country’s highest court of appeal, is set to decide on Wednesday whether to lift the statute of limitations on sex crimes, in a landmark case involving the alleged rape of a child 32 years ago.
The woman in question, identified as Cecile T. by the French press, claims she was raped by a cousin through marriage in July 1977 when she was just five years old.
As a result of the incident, Cecile T., claims she suffered “traumatic amnesia” which prevented her from reporting it until 32 years later, following extensive therapy.
However, by the time she reported the rape in September 2011, the case had expired, in accordance with the French statute of limitations, which, in this case was 20 years.
“These limitations must be revised when it concerns crimes or assaults on children, because the legislator does not take the psyche into consideration,” Cecile T., now a 41-year-old communications executive, told Le Parisien.
“The child represses the horrors they experienced in the unconscious, like I did. They develop phobias which are the result of post-traumatic [stress]. And when victims become aware of the horror, it’s often too late to report [it].”
“The devastation resulting from rape lasts a whole lifetime.”
The woman’s case, which is the first of its kind to be examined in France, has triggered a national debate over legal time limitations for sex crimes, particularly in cases of incest, with some campaigners calling for extensions and others even calling for the time limit to be abolished altogether.
Quoted in Le Parisien, Isabelle Aubry, President of the International Association of Incest Victims, said “by not reporting [crimes] because of [time] limitations, it's like giving predators a free pass."
Cecile T.’s lawyer Gilles-Jean Portejoie said: “The statue of limitation in the Penal Code is from another age and does not take into account the latest developments in psychiatry and science.”
Portejoie added that the statute of limitations should date from the “psychological revelation of the facts rather than [the date] when they occurred”.