For first time, France mulls set­ting le­gal age of sex­ual con­sent

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - NEWS - AN­GELA CHARL­TON PHILIPPE SOTTO PARIS

A bill be­ing pre­pared by the French gov­ern­ment could set a min­i­mum le­gal age for sex­ual con­sent for the first time, and the coun­try’s Jus­tice Min­is­ter said on Mon­day that she thinks 13 years old could be a rea­son­able age.

Ni­cole Bel­lou­bet told France’s RTL ra­dio net­work that the age of 13 was a “limit that is worth con­sid­er­ing” for the forth­com­ing leg­is­la­tion, but noted that judges should also have the abil­ity to as­sess whether some­one was old enough to give con­sent in in­di­vid­ual sit­u­a­tions.

“The ques­tion of the age be­low which the mi­nor’s con­sent is pre­sumed not to ex­ist is cru­cial, be­cause there are ob­vi­ously ex­tremely shock­ing and un­ac­cept­able sit­u­a­tions,” Ms. Bel­lou­bet said.

One of her col­leagues in the French gov­ern­ment has said that a min­i­mum age for sex­ual con­sent has not been set for the bill. Mar­lene Schi­appa, a ju­nior min­is­ter for gen­der equal­ity, said on Sun­day that the cut­off could be be­tween the ages of 13 and 15.

Two re­cent court cases have height­ened the de­bate over who is old enough to con­sent to sex un­der French law.

A jury last week ac­quit­ted a 30year-old man who was ac­cused of rap­ing an 11-year-old girl in 2009, French me­dia re­ported. The jury in the Paris sub­urb re­gion of Seine-etMarne found that while there had been a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship be­tween the girl and the man, it did not con­sti­tute rape ac­cord­ing to the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of the crime in France.

French me­dia also have re­ported that the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice in the city of Pon­toise near Paris de­cided in Septem­ber that a 28-year-old man sus­pected of hav­ing sex with an 11year-old girl should be tried for sex­ual abuse in­stead of rape be­cause of how French law de­fines rape.

French law de­fines rape as any act of sex­ual pen­e­tra­tion com­mit­ted on oth­ers “by vi­o­lence, co­er­cion, threat or sur­prise.” The def­i­ni­tion does not dis­tin­guish be­tween adults and mi­nors for ei­ther the vic­tims or per­pe­tra­tors, al­though the po­ten­tial crim­i­nal penalty is higher when vic­tims are un­der 15.

A min­i­mum age of sex­ual con­sent does not cur­rently ex­ist in French law. The law only says that an adult who per­forms a sex­ual act with a per­son un­der the age of 15 “with­out vi­o­lence, co­er­cion, threat or sur­prise” can be pros­e­cuted for “sex­ual abuse,” not rape.

In both of the re­cent cases, in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­port­edly found that the sex­ual re­la­tion­ships did not in­volve sur­prise, threat, co­er­cion or vi­o­lence.

Sex­ual abuse with­out co­er­cion is an of­fence pun­ish­able of a max­i­mum sen­tence of five years in prison. A rape con­vic­tion car­ries a max­i­mum prison sen­tence of 15 years, or 20 years when the vic­tim is un­der 15 years old.

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