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SEX

French parliament backs law to set age of consent at 15

French lawmakers backed a bill late on Monday setting the minimum age of sexual consent at 15.

French parliament backs law to set age of consent at 15
The bill has been been by the French parliament. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Members of the Assemblée nationale, the lower house of parliament, voted unanimously to bring France’s consent laws in line with most other Western countries, following a wave of allegations of sexual abuse and incest described as France’s second #MeToo movement.

Under the bill, sex with children under 15 would be considered rape, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, unless there is a small age gap between the two partners – the so-called ‘Romeo and Juliet clause’.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said the vote sent a clear message: “Children are off-limits”.

Under current French law, prosecutors have to prove that a minor was forced, threatened or tricked into having sex with an adult in order to bring charges of rape or sexual assault.

The draft law 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.

The bill does allow for sex between a teen and a young adult up to five years older — a gap criticised by some MPs as too large but which Dupond-Moretti defended, saying he did not want “to put a youngster aged 18 on trial because he had consensual sex with a girl aged fourteen and a half.”

The bill, which was the subject of some 300 amendments in the Assemblée nationale, now returns to the Senate for a final vote.

The legislation also cracks down on online paedophilia, with any person caught trying to groom children aged under 15 for sexual acts over the internet facing up to 10 years in prison and a fine of €150,000.

The issue of consent has repeatedly come up for debate since 2018 when it emerged that a 28-year-old man, who had sex with an 11-year-old girl he met in a park, had initially been charged with a lesser sexual offence, not rape.

The country’s top appeals court is this week set to rule on another case involving allegations of child abuse.

The case was brought by a woman, named as “Julie” in press reports, who claims she was raped by over 20 firefighters when she was aged 13-15 and was repeatedly hospitalised for severe anxiety attacks.

The accused claimed she consented to sex, which she denies.

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CRIME

Hackers post French hospital patient data online

Hackers who crippled a French hospital and stole a trove of data last month have released personal records of patients online, officials have confirmed.

Hackers post French hospital patient data online

The cyberattackers demanded a multimillion dollar ransom from the Corbeil-Essonnes hospital near Paris a month ago, but the institution refused to pay.

The hospital said the hackers had now dumped medical scans and lab analyses along with the social security numbers of patients.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the unspeakable disclosure of hacked data,” health minister François Braun tweeted on Sunday.

Hospitals around the world have been facing increasing attacks from ransomware groups, particularly since the pandemic stretched resources to breaking point.

The problem has been acute in France, where officials estimated early last year that healthcare institutions were facing on average an attack every week.

President Emmanuel Macron last year called the attacks during the pandemic a “crisis within a crisis” and announced an extra one billion euros for cybersecurity.

During last month’s attack, the Corbeil-Essonnes hospital shut down its emergency services and sent many patients to other institutions.

At one point, officials said the only technology still working was the telephone.

Rather than selling the trove of data, the hacker has dumped at least some of it for download on the “dark web” — a hidden part of the internet that requires special software to access.

Analysts said it seemed to be a tactic to put pressure on the hospital, even though public institutions are banned by French law from paying ransoms.

Cybersecurity researcher Damien Bancal, who revealed the leak and has seen the files, told AFP the worry is that other criminals will now launch scams with the data that has already been divulged.

In response to the leak on the weekend, the hospital severely restricted access to its systems and told patients to be extremely vigilant when receiving emails, text messages or phone calls.

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