France plans to introduce an age of sexual consent for the first time, making sex with under-15s illegal following outcry over wave of child abuse
- France’s government announced the change amid growing public pressure
- A series of testimonies about rape and other sexual violence have come to light
- Recent cases have involved a prominent modelling agent, a predatory priest, a surgeon, a political expert, and a firefighters accused of systemic abuse
- France’s lack of an age of consent – along with statutes of limitations – have complicated efforts to prosecute alleged perpetrators
France is planning to introduce an age of sexual consent for the first time, making sex with under-15s illegal, and will make it easier to punish historic sexual abuse.
The move from France’s government comes amid growing public pressure and a wave of online testimonies about rape and other sexual violence by parents and authority figures.
Child protection activists and victims celebrated the announcement, but say France needs to do more as a society to stop this abuse.
France’s lack of an age of consent – along with statutes of limitations – have complicated efforts to prosecute alleged perpetrators.
In France, it is an offence for someone in a position of authority to have sex with a person under the age of 18.
In comparison, in the UK, sex with under-13s is statutory rape.
Recent cases have involved a prominent modelling agent, a predatory priest, a surgeon and a group of firefighters accused of systematic abuse.
Child protection activists and victims celebrated the announcement that an age of consent would be introduced, but say France needs to do more as a society to stop abuse. Pictured: Dozens of people gathered on February 7 in Paris to demand ‘Justice for Julie’. Ten years ago, Julie, 13 years old, was raped by about twenty firemen in a Parisian fire station
Calling such treatment of children ‘intolerable,’ the justice ministry said ‘the government is determined to act quickly to implement the changes that our society expects.’
‘An act of sexual penetration by an adult on a minor under 15 will be considered a rape,’ Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said Tuesday on France-2 television.
Perpetrators could no longer cite consent to diminish the charges, he said, though exceptions would be made for teenagers having consensual sex.
The change still needs to be enshrined in law, but the announcement is a major step after years of efforts to toughen French protection for child victims of rape and other sexual violence.
‘Finally!’ said Fatima Benomar, whose group Les Effrontees has pushed for tougher rules against sexual abusers of children.
‘It’s very good that there is this revived debate, that there is an idea of a minimum age (of consent). … This will make adults more responsible.’
An effort to set France´s first age of consent three years ago in the wake of the global #MeToo movement failed amid legal complications.
But it has gained new momentum since accusations emerged last month of incestuous sexual abuse involving a prominent French political expert, Olivier Duhamel.
That unleashed an online #MeTooInceste movement in France that led to tens of thousands of similar testimonies.
#MeToo has gained new momentum since accusations emerged last month of incestuous sexual abuse involving a prominent French political expert, Olivier Duhamel (pictured)
The Justice Ministry is in discussions with victims’ groups about toughening punishment of incestuous abuse and extending or abolishing the statute of limitations on sexual violence against children, because it creates such deep trauma that it can take decades for victims to speak out.
The law currently allows child victims to file complaints until they are 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 to prosecute those accused of abusing multiple people over decades.
Legal time limits have hampered French authorities’ ability to investigate a number of high-profile cases.
One such case is that of influential cardinal, Philippe Barbarin, convicted then acquitted of covering up for a predatory priest.
Another is that of modelling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, an associate of disgraced late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, accused of an array of sex crimes.
A third case involves surgeon Joel le Scouarnec, convicted after accusations he sexually abused more than 300 children over decades.
One high profile case in France is that of Philippe Barbarin (pictured) an influential cardinal who was convicted then acquitted of covering up for a predatory priest
Another high-profile case is that of modelling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, an associate of disgraced late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, accused of an array of sex crimes. Pictured: Brunel wrestles with Epstein’s former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell
France’s highest court was considering a case Wednesday involving a woman who says multiple firefighters raped her when she was between 13 and 15.
A lower court downgraded the charges to sexual assault, but her lawyers want them reclassified as rape.
Under current French law, sexual relations between an adult and a minor under 15 are banned.
Yet the law accepts the possibility that someone under 15 is capable of consenting to sex, leading to cases where an adult is only prosecuted for sexual assault instead of rape, and faces a lighter prison sentence.
In the Duhamel case, the Paris prosecutor opened an investigation into alleged ‘rapes and sexual abuses by a person exercising authority’ over a child following accusations in a book by his stepdaughter that he abused her twin brother in the 1980s, when the siblings were in their early teens.
Duhamel, saying he was ‘the target of personal attacks,’ stepped down from his many professional positions, including as a TV commentator and head of National Foundation of Political Sciences.
A third case involves surgeon Joel le Scouarnec, convicted after accusations he sexually abused more than 300 children over decades. Pictured: A sketch of Scouarnec in court
The foundation manages the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, whose director Frederic Mion resigned this week amid the fallout from the affair, which entangled multiple people in France’s intellectual elite.
Since the Duhamel accusations surfaced, searing accounts of alleged incestuous abuse filled social media networks. Other prominent figures in cinema and politics have also been accused.
The movement spawned an offshoot #MeTooGay wave in France of long-suppressed testimonies of sexual abuse by older men.
Activists say improving laws is part of the battle, but they also are pushing for more child-centred public policies to train teachers and others to spot and report abuse.
The World Health Organisation says international studies show that one in five women and one in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child.
A sign on a wall reads ‘Duhamel, and the others, you will never be in peace’ referring to Olivier Duhamel and others accused of sexual abuse. The sign on the left ‘Mion Resignation’ refers to Frederic Mion, head of Sciences Po university, in Paris
Frederic Mion (pictured) resigned this week after accusations emerged last month of incestuous sexual abuse involving a prominent French political expert, Olivier Duhamel who was the head of National Foundation of Political Sciences
Protests were seen in France on Tuesday after a woman claimed that she was raped by 20 firefighters over a period of two years from the age of 13 to 15.
The woman, now aged 25, said she was groomed by a firefighter who assisted her during an anxiety seizure in 2008.
Ten years on from the alleged abuse, three men have been charged with sexual violation and the country’s highest court is set to rule on the case on Wednesday.
The case of the alleged victim, who has been dubbed ‘Julie’ by French media,sparked protests in France, with campaigners demanding an age of sexual consent should be enshrined in law.
Julie claims that one firefighter named Pierre began grooming her at age 13 before she was raped by him and 19 of his colleagues over a period of two years.
In French law, there is an ‘age of sexual majority’ at 15, but there is no age below which a minor cannot be deemed to consent. Above, protests in Paris on Sunday
In January 2009, Pierre allegedly visited Julie’s home and raped her while her mother was out for a dog walk.
Julie told investigators that in November 2009, Pierre, while wearing full uniform, allegedly took Julie to his apartment where two colleagues came over and proceeded to gang-rape her.
At least three of the firefighters have admitted to having intercourse with the then-teenager, although they maintain that the sex was consensual.
Julie says she was ‘terrified and paralysed with fear’ at the time.
The men visited her home 130 times over two years, according to a report in The Guardian.
The girl’s mother told investigators she had no idea what was going on. ‘I even made cake for the firemen,’ she said.
Of Pierre, she said: ‘I thought he was the last person to do such a thing because he had helped her so many times and saw how vulnerable she was.’
Julie’s mental and physical health deteriorated following the alleged assaults, and she was prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
After being taken off medication in July 2010, Julie disclosed the abuse to her mother, who filed a police report.
Dozens of people gathered this Sunday at Place Saint-Michel to demand “Justice for Julie”
Her case has been taken to the country’s supreme court of appeal and will reach its conclusion on Wednesday.
Currently three men are charged with ‘sexual violation’ although prosecutors will argue that all 20 men should be convicted of rape.
In France, the maximum sentence for sexual violation is seven years, compared with 20 for rape.
In order to bring rape charges in France, the complainant must prove she was forced or violently coerced.
The victim’s legal advocate, Marjolaine Vignola, said: ‘Every stereotype about rape is in this case: The judges and the psychiatrist say Julie is a liar, that she consented to sex with all those men and that she is lying about being raped because she is ashamed.’
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