What should the age of consent be? And at what age should non-consent be the presumption?
In France this has been the subject of heated debate after a 28-year old man was acquitted of raping an 11-year old, whom he had lured to his apartment in a Paris suburb on a promise of teaching her how to “kiss properly”.
Prosecutors ruled that the offence was not rape as their was no evidence of violence, constraint, threat or surprise.
The current French penal code says that “committing a sexual offence against a minor under the age of 15 without violence, constraint, threat or surprise is punished by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 euros.” These offences come under the heading of “sex offences” rather than “rape”.
By contrast, in the UK, Germany and Spain there is a minimum age beneath which the non-consent of a minor is assumed.
In this case the girl’s mother insists that she did not resist because she was paralysed with fear, and experts have confirmed that this response was common, particularly amongst child victims of sexual abuse.
To close this legal loophole the Minister for Gender Equality, Marlène Schiappa, and the Minister for Justice, Nicole Belloubet, want to change the law so that absence of consent is presumed when the victim falls below a certain age. An age range of 13-15 is being discussed.
Opinions are divided on the issue. Childrens’ charity, L’Enfant Bleu, believes the burden of proof should not rest with the child.
Maître Yves Crespin, lawyer for the charity, explains:
“If there had been the presumption of the absence of consent, it wouldn’t have been necessary to seek this proof, which is extremely painful for the victim.”
However, Clarisse Taron, President of the Magistrate’s Union, argues:
“If we talk about that sort of limit, should we go as far as to say that it’s no longer possible for someone, even if they’re 18-years’ old, to have a sexual relationship with someone younger than 15? That it would be tantamount to rape and subject to decision by the Crown Court? I think we risk going too far.”
A bill, which will also extend the time limit for prosecuting sex crimes involving minors, and include a penalty for street harassment, will be introduced in 2018.