A much-anticipated legislation on sexual and sexist violence sparked a heated debate in the French parliament this week.
The proposed bill includes measures such as imposing fines for catcalling and cyber-harassment, as well as extending the prescription period so that victims of sexual abuse can file complaints later in their lives.
But the package of laws has been widely criticized by advocate groups -and members of parliament alike- for failing to set a legal age of consent.
Caroline De Haas helped pen a letter to the French President Emmanuel Macron demanding the government be tougher on fighting sexual violence against children.
A petition she started online has gathered more than 100,000 signatures. She told Euronews:
“In article 2 within the government's proposed bill, it recognises that in France, even when a crime involves penetration, it can still be called sexual assault. This means a child who is penetrated by an adult would not have been raped. And we don’t agree with that.”
The government says that the bill is being misinterpreted and that this text will help reinforce punishment imposed on perpetrators of sexual abuse against minors.
Marlène Schiappa is the French Secretary of State in charge of Gender Equality. She told Euronews:
“In French law, rape is characterized in the penal code by penetration obtained by constraint, threat, violence or surprise. We’re proposing to add a paragraph in the penal code to this definition of rape. So as a crime, by stating when the victim is younger than 15, we believe that is constitutive of constraint or surprise. So even if the child hasn’t resisted, hasn’t said no, we still consider that it as rape. So the judge can conclude that it is rape. The debate won’t be on whether the child resisted, which is a scandalous debate. It will be whether or not the child was younger than 15."
Anelise Borges has been following the story for Euronews in Paris:
"After three days of heated debate, the proposed bill was approved by 115 votes against 29. The text now goes to the Senate for a final vote. Advocate groups say their fight is not over and that they will need to put pressure on the government of Emmanuel Macron so that more is done to protect women and children against sexual violence in France."