France has been struggling with their concept of sexual assault, in particular regarding the assault of children, since the rise of their own version of the #MeToo movement, #BalanceTonPorc. Technically, it has not been considered rape for an adult man to have sex with minors if they “consented.” Lawmakers have finally decided that the legal age of consent will be set at 15.
The BBC reports that currently, an adult who sexually assaults a child can be charged with child abuse, but not rape unless coercion or violence can be proven. This is not theoretical: in early February a 29-year-old man was put on trial for having sexual intercourse with an 11-year-old girl. However, he was not charged with rape, and his defense lawyer insisted the girl knew exactly what she was doing and wanted the encounter. Similarly, in November of 2017, a 30-year-old man was acquitted of raping an 11-year-old when his lawyers “proved” there was no “constraint, threat, violence or surprise.”
The government has been working on a number of new measures meant to address assault and gendered violence in France, including a fine for catcalling. The new age of consent law is being backed by Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa, and was recommended by doctors and legal experts, though there was some dispute over whether 13 or 15 should be the official age. Schiappa admitted to Agence France-Presse that the decision to settle on 15 made her “very glad.” The law is scheduled to be approved along with the other measures in the next few weeks.