Age of Consent in France Set to 15
French Equity Minister Marlène Schiappa supported the decision this week to change the legal age of sexual consent to 15. The decision comes after discussion of two cases involving sex with 11-year-old girls.
Back in November, French news agency AFP reported that a French court acquitted a 30-year-old man of raping an 11-year-old girl, stating that they “[had not experienced] constraint, threat, violence, or surprise” during the sex act.
In the other case involving a 28-year-old man, charges that accused him of raping an 11-year-old girl were downgraded to “sexual relations with a minor.”
Under existing French legislation, offenders may only be charged with sexual abuse of a minor, and not rape, if the act is “exercise[d] without violence, coercion, threat or surprise sexual assault.” Meaning, prosecutors must prove sex with someone under 15 years old was forced in order to bring rape charges, which carry harsher punishments.
If prosecutors are unable to do so, the maximum sentence assailants can face is a limit of five years in prison and fine of €75,000 or $87,000. Such sentences are the same for sexual assaults on minors and non-minors.
As news broke over the French court’s decision regarding the cases involving the young girls, legislatures for the first time have pushed to establish an age of consent, making any sexual acts towards anyone younger than 15 illegal and categorized as rape. Currently, there is no law that states a child below a certain age is considered incapable of consenting to sex.
Although there have been debates as to whether the age of consent should be lowered to 13, Ms. Schiappa told AFP that she was “very glad” the higher age was chosen. Following the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the fall, the Equity Minister has been a steadfast advocate to reform legislation regarding sexual harassment. She's lead a task force of French politicians to address sexual harassment and abuse issues, particularly against minors, and has worked to establish a presumption of non-consent for children.
Back in October 2017, Ms. Schiappa commented to CNN: “We want to fix an age in the law below which it’s always forbidden to have sex with children, with young girls. Below which it’s always considered as a rape.”
Minister of Solidarity and Health, Agnès Buzyn, supported the move to change the age of consent, stating to French newspaper Le Figaro: “Setting a legal age of sexual consent would allow a ‘collective awareness’…and everyone would see what was ‘legal and illegal.’”
The new law is expected to take effect as early as next week and will be a part of a larger piece of legislation that is intended to reduce sexual violence and harassment.
In a report created by a group of lawyers, doctors and childcare professionals sent to Prime Minister Edouard Phillippe, they stated this new age of consent “does not seem excessive in view of the double imperative to strengthen the protection of minors from sexual offenses and to clearly prohibit sexual abuse.”
Additionally, based on neuroscientific research: “the teenager deserves, until the age of 15,16, enhanced protection because of the deep traces caused by sexual trauma on the structure and functioning of the brain.”