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

As France faces up to several high profile cases of child sexual abuse, there are calls to change the law in this area. But is it true that there is no official age of consent in France?

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

French society has been reeling over revelations of high-profile child sexual abuse cases, some of which involved incest.

Among the responses has been that of Children and Families Minister Adrien Taquet and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti, who want to create a new criminal offence around this.

 

What is the law at present?

Unlike countries like the UK and USA which have offences of unlawful sexual intercourse or statutory rape, in France you cannot be convicted of rape based purely on age.

Many countries' legal codes specify that children below a certain age cannot legally give consent to sex, so having sex with a person below that age is automatically rape, with no need to prove force or coercion.

In France this is not the case, and a person having sex with a child can only be convicted of rape if prosecutors can prove violence, coercion, threat or surprise – the same criteria needed to prove rape of an adult victim.

Instead people having sex with children can 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.

What is the proposed change?

Taquet's proposed bill, after a consultation, would make 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 would need to prove that penetration took place, rather than non-penetrative sexual activity.

The proposed bill also includes the necessity of an age gap of at least five years, in order not to criminalise sexual relationships between teenagers where one is older than 15 and the other is not.

This bill is at the proposal stage, so still needs to pass through several hurdles including debates on both houses of parliament before it can become law.

It's 2021, how is this law not already in force?

There have been previous attempts to set a formal age for lawful sexual intercourse in France, including a bill brought by the 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 bill was brought after two cases where men escaped prosecution for rape after having sex with girls aged 11 and the dropping of the bill sparked widespread anger around France.

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 several recent high-profile cases have broken through a long-standing culture of silence around child abuse.

Two recent books have helped spark debate – one written by Vanessa Springora describing her abuse while a teenager at the hands of prize-winning writer Gabriel Matzneff and the other by Camille Kouchner alleging 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.

His comments drew an angry response from, among many others, Taquet, who tweeted: “In what world do you live Alain Finkielkraut? Are you really talking about consent between a teenager and a family member? You maintain the silence and the feelings of guilt of the child by suggesting that some form of reciprocity is possible.”

    

 

Member comments

  1. 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.
    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.

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously.  The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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