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France sets age of sexual consent at 15 in ‘historic step’

France's parliament adopted legislation on Thursday setting the minimum age of sexual consent at 15.

France sets age of sexual consent at 15 in 'historic step'
Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

The Assemblée nationale gave the legislation unanimous final approval following a wave of allegations of sexual abuse and incest described as France’s second #MeToo movement.

Sex with children under 15 is to be considered rape, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, unless there is a small age gap between the two partners.

The move brings France in line with most other Western countries following years of campaigning by abuse victims.

In cases of incest, the age of consent will be 18.

“We do not touch children,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said.

“No adult aggressor will be able to rely on the consent of a minor” under 15, he added, calling it a “historic step.”

Under previous French law, prosecutors had 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. if this could not be proved only the charge of sexual relations with a minor, which carries much lower penalties, was available.

The new 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 legislation does allow for sex between a teen and a young adult up to five years older – the so-called ‘Romeo and Juliet clause’ was criticised by some MPs as too large but which Dupond-Moretti has defended.

The justice minister has said 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 was the subject of some 300 amendments in the lower house National Assembly.

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 case caused a public outcry in France. The issue of child sexual abuse also exploded on to the front pages in France in January after the daughter of former foreign minister Bernard Kouchner published a book accusing her step-father, prominent political commentator Olivier Duhamel, of having abused her twin brother as a child.

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CRIME

Rape case against France’s interior minister is dropped

The Paris appeals court on Tuesday confirmed the dropping of a rape case against Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, although his accuser said she would keep fighting to have it heard.

Rape case against France's interior minister is dropped

Chief prosecutor Remy Heitz said the court had confirmed the abandonment of the case, originating from a 2017 complaint by Sophie Patterson-Spatz that Darmanin raped her in 2009.

Darmanin, 40, is high-flying figure on the right of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government who frequently talks tough on fighting illegal immigration and crime.

His appointment as Interior Minister – the nominal head of the police and judicial services – while under investigation for rape prompted furious protests from feminist groups when it was announced in 2020. 

“For the fifth time in almost six years, the justice system has found that no objectionable act can be imputed to Gérald Darmanin,” his lawyers Pierre-Olivier Sur and Mathias Chichportich said, adding that the minister “will make no further comment”.

“What a surprise,” Patterson-Spatz’s lawyer Elodie Tuaillon-Hibon wrote on Twitter, adding that her client would take her case to France’s top court, the Court of Cassation, and the European Court of Human Rights if she failed there.

Patterson-Spatz and her lawyers say Darmanin extorted sex from the plaintiff in exchange for intervening in a case against her when he worked in the legal service of the conservative UMP party – since renamed to Les Républicains.

Darmanin acknowledges having sex with Patterson-Spatz, but says it was consensual.

In 2021 an investigating magistrate said the case should be dropped, finding that Patterson-Spatz’s “sincerity… could not be doubted” but that she had “deliberately chosen to have sex with (Darmanin) in hopes of having her criminal case retried”.

“The law cannot be mixed up with morality,” the magistrate added, saying the plaintiff was “consenting in the eyes of the law”.

A second rape investigation against Darmanin, on suspicion he extorted sex from a woman in exchange for a job and an apartment, was dropped in 2018.

In his post since July 2020, Darmanin has sought to shore up relations with the police and also played a key role in talks with British counterparts seeking to limit the crossings of small boats across the Channel.

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