France is to change its laws and set the legal age of consent at 15, and specify that sex with anyone below that age is automatically defined as rape. The move follows public outrage over two cases involving 11-year old girls. The move was announced by Marlène Schiappa, France’s gender equality minister.
Although the age of consent in France is already set at 15, prosecutors have to prove in court that any sex was non-consensual in order to secure a rape conviction.
Last year, a 30-year-old man was acquitted of rape after a court decided that an 11-year-old he had sex with was not subjected to “constraint, threat, violence or surprise” and so was consensual. In an unrelated case, a 29-year-old man who had sex with an 11-year old was told he would not be charged with rape because there was no evidence the child was coerced. He was charged with a crime carrying the light sentence of sexual relations with a minor but, after public outcry, the court subsequently reversed the original decision.
In December of 2017, a French school teacher was given a suspended sentence for having sex with a 14-year old pupil. The lenient sentence came after the judge refused a request from the victi’s family for a fresh investigation. The girl’s parents accused the police of failing to understand the gravity of the case, treating it only as a “simple love affair”.
In December, Mr Macron said he would push for the age of sexual consent and the presumption of rape to both be set at 15, saying: “Our criminal law contains intolerable ambiguities.” Criticising what he called tolerance of the violence and harassment that French men inflicted on women, he said: “Our entire society is sick with sexism.”
France has always had a laid-back attitude to sexual relationships between teenagers and adults, with behaviour accepted that would result in prison sentences in many countries. President Emmanuel Macron met his future wife Brigitte when he was around 14 and she was 38 and a teacher at his sixth-form college. The pair started dating when he was 16.