France to set age of consent at 15 following rape outcry

High-profile cases involving 11-year-old girls trigger rethink of sexual assault laws

Activists hold a banner during a demonstration by feminist groups in Paris
(Image credit: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

France is to change its laws so that sex with anyone under the age of 15 is automatically treated as rape, following a recent public outcry over two cases involving 11-year-old girls.

Announcing the plan yesterday, the country’s Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said the government had decided to introduce a minimum age of consent at the recommendation of a panel of experts and after public consultations.

Under current laws in France, any sexual act between an adult and a minor younger than 15 can be prosecuted as a sexual offence, but the prosecutor must prove that it was non-consensual.

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“The new law would put the onus on the adult to prove the minor gave consent, instead of expecting the victim to prove they were coerced, threatened or surprised,” says The Independent.

In the UK, the age of consent is 16 and there is “an irrefutable presumption of an absence of consent” in cases involving anyone younger than that, the newspaper adds.

This issue hit headlines in France earlier this year after the alleged perpetrators in the two cases involving 11-year-old girls were acquitted of rape, says CNN.

In the first case, a 30-year-old man was cleared of a potential rape charge after the court found that the victim had not been subjected to “constraint, threat, violence or surprise”.

In the second, charges against a 28-year-old man were downgraded from rape to “sexual relations with a minor”. Last month the court reversed that decision, however, saying the man should face rape charges in a higher court.

Schiappa said the new law would be presented to the Council of Ministers - France’s equivalent of a cabinet - on 21 March. The proposal is part of a broader bill aimed at reducing sexual violence and sexism.

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