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Sex

Is it true that France has no age of consent for sex?

The Local France
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Is it true that France has no age of consent for sex?
Campaigners in France have long called for an overhaul of the law. Photo: AFP

France has for many years been the European outlier when it comes to an age of consent.

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Until horrifyingly recently, the answer to this question would have been 'yes, France has no official age of consent for sex'.

However legal changes in 2021 means that the country now does have an age of consent, albeit within a legal framework that many campaigners still consider too lax.

Until April 2021, you could not be convicted of rape based purely on age.

A person having sex with a child could only be convicted of rape if prosecutors could prove violence, coercion, threat or surprise - the same criteria needed to prove rape of an adult victim.

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Instead people having sex with children would usually be prosecuted for the lesser offence of having sex with a minor, which carries much lighter penalties than rape - six months to five years in jail as opposed to the 20-year jail term that is the maximum for offences of rape.

However in the spring of 2021, the French parliament passed a new law proposed jointly by Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti and Families Minister Adrien Taquet.

The new law makes any sexual penetration of a person under the age of 15 a crime, without the need to prove coercion or violence.

This is a looser definition than many countries have, as prosecutors need to prove that penetration took place, rather than non-penetrative sexual activity.

The bill also includes a 'Romeo and Juliet clause' - requiring an age gap of at least five years between the two people in order to prosecute for rape based purely on age.

The idea is to avoid criminalising sex between two teenagers where one is over 15 and the other is not, but it has been criticised for making the age gap too wide - allowing for legal sex between an 18-year-old and someone who has only just passed their 14th birthday.

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How was this not the law until 2021?

There had been previous attempts to set a formal age for lawful sexual intercourse in France, including a bill brought by former equalities minister Marlène Schiappa in 2018. The bill, part of a package of measures on sexual violence, originally included a provision that all sex with a person below the age of 15 would be classified as rape.

However by the time the bill came before parliament this had been watered down and included only the provision of a new offence of 'sexual penetration of a person under the age of 15' which carried a lesser penalty than rape.

The law was finally changed after two cases where men escaped prosecution for rape after having sex with girls aged 11, sparking widespread anger around France.

It was initiated by members of the Senate, who had suggested the age of consent be set at 13, which would have been one of the lowest in Europe. But President Emmanuel Macron's government pushed for it to be set higher.

Is this a major problem in France?

There's no reason to think that France has more of a problem with child sexual abuse than any other country, but in recent years several high-profile cases have broken through a long-standing culture of silence - or even indulgence - around the subject of child sexual abuse.

A 2020 book written by Vanessa Springora described her abuse as a teenager at the hands of prize-winning writer Gabriel Matzneff, while a book by Camille Kouchner alleged incestuous sexual abuse of her twin brother by high-profile political commentator Olivier Duhamel.

In both cases, the women say that the abuse was known about in the intellectual and social circles in which the men moved. Shortly after Kouchner's book came out, the intellectual Alain Finkielkraut, interviewed about the case on TV, mused about the 'consent' and 'reciprocity' between the teenage boy and his stepfather.

More recently, actress Judith Godreche filed a complaint against film director Benoit Jacquot, accusing him of raping her in a relationship that began when she was 14 and he was 39.

Speaking to Le Monde, Jacquot admitted the relationship with the 14-year-old, saying that he was "very much in love" with Godreche and they lived together.

"I was in a very bad way, I didn't want to make any more films, and she pulled me out of the dark," he was quoted as saying. "It was me, without irony, who was under her spell for six years."

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Anonymous 2021/02/10 19:19
As mentioned in this article, in the UK, a person who has sex with a minor is automatically accused as rape. And that is how it should be. Even if the minor says that they wanted to have sex, it is forbidden.<br />I'm absolutely appalled that France accepts that sex with a minor may be considered consensual. It's absolutely shocking and I hope this law changes asap.
Anonymous 2021/02/10 13:58
15? Are you joking? <br />Jeffrey Epstein must have loved this!

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