“ Finally ”: France seeks to set the age of sexual consent at 15 years
PARIS – The French government wants to set the age of sexual consent at 15 and make it easier to crack down on child sexual abuse long ago, amid mounting public pressure and a wave of online testimonies about rape and other sexual violence by parents and authority figures.
“To finish!” was the refrain on Wednesday from victims and child protection activists who have long called for tougher laws and greater societal recognition of the problem.
France’s lack of an age of consent – along with statute of limitations – have complicated efforts to prosecute alleged perpetrators, including a prominent model, a predatory priest, a surgeon and a group of firefighters accused of systematic sexual abuse .
Describing such treatment of children as “intolerable”, the justice ministry declared that “the government is determined to act quickly to implement the changes expected by our society”.
“An act of sexual penetration by an adult on a minor under the age of 15 will be considered rape,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said on France-2 on Tuesday. Authors can no longer use consent to lessen the charges, he said, although exceptions are made for teens who have consensual sex.
The change has yet to be enshrined in law, but the announcement is a major step.
“It’s very good that there is this renewed debate, that there is an idea of a minimum age (of consent),” said Fatima Benomar, whose group Les Effrontees lobbied for stricter laws. against sexual abusers. “It will make adults more responsible.”
An effort to set the first age of consent in France three years ago following the global #MeToo movement has failed amid legal complications. But it has gained new momentum since accusations were leveled last month of incestuous sexual abuse involving a prominent French politician, Olivier Duhamel. This sparked an online #MeTooIncest movement in France which has led to tens of thousands of similar testimonials.
The Justice Department is in talks with victim groups to toughen the punishment for incestuous abuse and extend or abolish the statute of limitations for sexual violence against children, as it creates such a deep trauma that it can take decades for people to experience sexual violence against children. victims to express themselves. The law currently allows child victims to lodge a complaint up to the age of 48.
The ministry also says it wants to “ensure that victims of the same perpetrator do not receive different legal treatment,” which could broaden the scope of prosecutions against those accused of abusing multiple people for decades.
Legal delays hampered the ability of the French authorities to investigate an influential cardinal, Philippe Barbarin, convicted and then acquitted of covering up a predatory priest; modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, partner of the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein, accused of a series of sex crimes; and surgeon Joel le Scouarnec, convicted after being accused of sexually abusing more than 300 children for decades, as well as other less important cases.
One of Brunel’s alleged victims, former model Thysia Huisman, has welcomed the proposed reform, even though it is too late for her to seek justice for the rape she says she suffered as a teenager.
“It gives power, and it’s really important,” she says. “I thought nothing was ever going to change.”
Huisman has come forward and testified before police in hopes of spurring change and encouraging other alleged victims to speak out. “It’s really important to me, as a victim, as a survivor, that we have come forward as a group,” she said.
France’s highest court on Wednesday examined a case involving a woman who said several firefighters raped her when she was between 13 and 15 years old. A lower court has downgraded the sexual assault charges, but his lawyers want them reclassified as rape.
Under current French law, sexual relations between an adult and a minor under the age of 15 are prohibited. Still, the law recognizes the possibility that a person under the age of 15 may be able to consent to sex, leading to cases where an adult is prosecuted for sexual assault instead of rape, and therefore faces more jail time. slight.
In the Duhamel case, the Paris prosecutor opened an investigation into allegations of “rape and sexual abuse committed by a person exercising authority” on a child following accusations in a book by his daughter-in-law. ‘having abused her twin brother in the 1980s, when the siblings were in their young teens.
Duhamel, claiming he was “the target of personal attacks”, has resigned from his many professional positions, including as a television commentator and director of the National Foundation for Political Science. The foundation manages the prestigious Sciences Po University in Paris, whose director, Frédéric Mion, resigned this week amid the fallout from the affair, which has entangled several people among the French elite.
Since Duhamel’s accusations surfaced, searing tales of alleged incestuous abuse have filled social media. Other figures in French cinema and politics have also been charged. The movement sparked a #MeTooGay wave in France of long-suppressed accounts of sexual abuse by older men.
According to the World Health Organization, international studies show that one in five women and one in 13 men report having been sexually abused as children.
John Leicester and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.