A trial in France is reignited a debate over the fact that the country does not have a legal age of consent.
On February 13, a 29-year-old French man went on trial in the suburb of Pontoise for sexually abusing an 11-year-old girl. The Associated Press reports that defense lawyers say that the man and the girl met in a park before she followed him to an apartment where they had sexual intercourse.
The girl’s family filed a complaint of rape in the town Montmagny but prosecutors didn’t believe the suspect used violence or coercion, which are integral to the French definition of rape. Rape in France is defined as “any act of sexual penetration, whatever its nature, committed against another person by violence, constraint, threat or surprise.” Instead the man was charged for “sexual abuse of a minor under 15" rather than rape.
And in a particularly horrifying move, the defense lawyers for the man argue that the girl consented to sex and was fully aware of her actions, with one lawyer Sandrine Parise-Heideiger saying “We are not dealing with a sexual predator on a poor little faultless goose.” The lawyers also say their client thought the girl was “at least 16.”
The lawyer for the girl’s family is pushing for the charges to be changed to rape. The differences in the charges, between rape and sexual abuse of a minor, hold very different sentences: sexual abuse may result in up to five years in prison but rape of a minor under 15 could result in up to 20 years. Now the trial is postponed after a presiding judge believed that the prosecutor did choose the wrong charge. The case is currently being re-investigated.
The ease with which the French justice system analyzed an 11-year-old’s actions as those of a consenting adult is disturbing from an American perspective, but the French are also working to change this as well. President Emmanuel Macron recently proposed a new bill introducing a minimum legal age for sexual consent, saying he preferred the age of 15 as the cutoff but would let lawmakers decide.