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France mulls new law on sexual consent after men acquitted of raping 11-year-olds

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France mulls new law on sexual consent after men acquitted of raping 11-year-olds
Photo: AFP
10:59 CET+01:00
France could introduce a law to rule that anyone aged under 13 is automatically considered unable to consent to sex after a 28-year-old man was acquitted of raping an 11-year-old because the relations were deemed consensual.
Though it is already illegal in France to have sex with someone aged under 15 rape charges are only brought if prosecutors can prove it was non-consensual. 
 
Currently there is no legal minimum age below which it is presumed in law that a child cannot give consent, which would then automatically bring about rape charges.
 
But equalities minister Marléne Schiappa wants a legal minimum age set which she said could be 13 or 15-years-old.
 
"The law will mean that 'below a certain age, there can be no debate, ever, on the sexual consent of a child, and that any child below a certain age would automatically be considered as raped or sexually assaulted'," Schiappa said. 
 
Schiappa was speaking out after two recent cases in France hprovoked shock and outrage and highlighted a need to change the laws.
 
Last week a French man was acquitted of rape after a jury found no evidence that he forced an 11-year-old girl into having sex.
 
The jurors at the criminal court in the Seine-et-Marne district outside Paris ruled on Tuesday after two days of trial hearings that the elements that
constitute rape such as "coercion, threat, violence and surprise were not established", said public prosecutor Dominique Laurens.
 
And recently the decision made by a French court to acquit a 28-year-old man after prosecutors deemed that his sexual relationship with an 11-year-old was consensual sparked shock and anger across the country. 
 
At the man's suggestion, the girl is understood to have agreed to follow him home from a park in Montmagny, to the north of Paris.
 
He had reportedly promised to teach her how to kiss. But once at the apartment the man had sexual relations with the girl.
 
The girl's family and legal team were insistent that the man should face rape charges, saying the girl was "paralyzed" by fear and "unable to defend herself".
 
But to their anger and to the shock of many in France prosecutors decided to only charge the man with sexual abuse of a minor (atteinte sexuel).
 
Their reasoning was that “there was no violence, no constraint, no threat, and no surprise" on the part of the man to justify the charge of rape.
 
Essentially they judged that she had consented to the sexual encounter because she was not physically forced into the act.
 
Following the case children's rights group Le Voix de l'Enfant said in a statement: “The question of consent or its absence should never even be asked when it comes to rape victims who are minors”.
 
Other groups had also joined the call for the French legal system to introduce a legal age under which sexual consent is never presumed.
 
Asked about the case, Schiappa replied that "as a member of the government", she could "not react to court decisions."
 
Nevertheless the government envisages bringing in a new law next year that will set a minimum age of consent and if the child is under that age then any sexual relations that have taken place will automatically lead to rape or sexual assault charges.
 
What does the French law actually say? 
 
In this case, it's more about what the law doesn't say. For adults, if there is no threat or violence during a sexual act then it's deemed to be consensual. 
 
But this law doesn't take into account those under the age of 15, which is the legal age of consent - at least not for rape. 
 
The penal code says that “Committing a sexual offence against a minor under the age of 15 without violence, constraint, threat or surprise is punished by five years' imprisonment and a fine of €75,000."
 
And this only mentions "sexual offences" (atteinte sexuelle) and not rape, which brings much strongersentences.
 
In the UK, meanwhile, there is an “irrefutable presumption of an absence of consent” in all sex acts against those under the age of 16, but children under the age of 13 have additional legal protections that declare they can never consent to sexual activity.
 
Similar laws are in place in Germany and Spain. 
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