Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

EYE ON AFRICA

Mandela commemorations: Barack Obama honours Madiba's legacy

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Trump backtracks on Russian meddling

Read more

THE DEBATE

Collusion? Backlash after Trump praises Putin in Helsinki

Read more

FOCUS

Is French oak under threat?

Read more

ENCORE!

Questions of gender take centre stage at Avignon’s theatre festival

Read more

IN THE PRESS

Street party, not a wake: Croatian football fans welcome home team

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

UK looks to calm Brexit fears at Farnborough Airshow

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

Nigeria: Army denies reports of missing soldiers after Boko Haram attacks

Read more

FOCUS

Despite economic blockade and corruption scandals, Qatar prepares for its 2022 World Cup

Read more

France

Misdemeanour or rape? Revised French bill on child sex sparks outrage

© Bertrand Guay, AFP | The proposed law has been named after French Junior Minister for Gender Equality Marlene Schiappa (left), pictured here next to Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer

Text by Louise NORDSTROM

Latest update : 2018-05-14

A bill initially aimed at tightening French child sex laws has been turned on its head and sparked widespread outrage, with critics accusing it of not only lessening the protection of children, but opening up a new legal loophole for child rapists.

On Monday, a revised version of a government bill initially meant to clamp down on sexual offences and harassment went up for debate in French parliament, with lawmakers due to vote on its contents on Tuesday.

While much of the bill has been praised both at home and abroad for introducing on-the-spot fines for sexual harassment on the street, targeting cyber mobbing and extending the statute of limitations for child rape claims (from 20 to 30 years), the second of a proposed four articles, "Article 2", has caused child protection activists to see red.

The current law reads that today it is illegal in France for an adult to "have sexual contact" with a minor under the age of 15, but it is not considered rape. An initial draft of the bill proposed rectifying this by setting the minimum age of consent at 15, but this age of consent clause was quickly deleted after critics argued it would infringe on the defendant’s presumption of innocence.

Open letter

On Monday, more than 250 renowned French psychologists, social workers, doctors, lawyers and celebrities signed an open letter to President Emmanuel Macron urging him to have the whole revised “Article 2” of the bill, which does not qualify sex with someone under 15 as rape, to be dropped altogether.

“We’re very worried. We don’t want another ‘Pontoise’,” they wrote, referring to last year’s highly publicised case in which prosecutors refused to prosecute a man for rape after he, at age 22, had sex with an 11-year-old girl in a park. The main reason was that coercion couldn’t be proved. Under the current law, all French rape convictions must contain proof of either violence, force, surprise or lack of choice.

The “Pontoise case” was then followed by a similar ruling where a 28-year-old man was convicted of the lesser crime of sexually abusing a minor after having sex with an 11-year-old whom he had lured to his apartment.

The two cases prompted public outrage and resulted in Macron’s government vowing to reassess the country’s child sex laws and providing the country’s children with better protection.

Pascal Cussigh, a lawyer and president of the child protection group “Coup de Pouce”, told FRANCE 24 that: “If you interpret the current text literally, an infant could consent to a sexual act involving penetration.”

“We’re one of the only countries in Europe who haven’t adopted the principal of a minimum age for sexual consent. Last August, even Tunisia applied this principle with a very simple definition: ‘Consent doesn’t exist for children under the age of 16’,” he said.

‘Hard evidence’ still needed

Cussigh, who is among those who signed the open letter to Macron, also criticised the fact that in the bill it is still up to the child to provide evidence that a rape has indeed taken place (through violence, force, surprise or lack of choice).

“So in essence, the bill doesn’t change anything,” he said.

In cases where so-called “hard evidence” cannot be presented by the alleged victim that a rape has taken place but there is enough proof to show that sexual penetration has in fact occurred, the government has proposed introducing the lesser crime of “sexual abuse of minors”, which is considered a misdemeanour in France. The government hopes that this will lead to more convictions in child sex cases.

According to critics, however, this clause opens up a box of worms, because even if the intention is to avoid that a suspected rapist is acquitted just because of a lack of tangible evidence, many judges will feel prone to send suspected rape cases directly to the tribunal correctionnel -- which deals with misdemeanours -- rather than the criminal court, simply for the sake of saving time.

“It’s counter-productive,” Cussigh said, adding that “even if the suspect is convicted, the act might never be considered as having been non-consensual”.

“For cases related to incest, there is no special treatment,” he said. “A child victim of incest equally needs to prove that there was no consent at the time of the sexual act, even if they’re only as young as eight years old,” he said.

Dangers in not labelling rapists

Another problem is that if rapist is convicted for the lesser crime, the perpetrator may never be considered a rapist in the eyes of society, but a minor offender.

“Le Groupe F”, which is behind the open letter to Macron, warned of the potential consequences the added misdemeanour clause could have on French society.

“Since 1810, rape has been considered a crime in France. By requalifying a crime as a sexual aggression or sexual assault that is thereby ruled a misdemeanour, it reduces the seriousness of the acts committed for both the victims and the perpetrators,” it said.

The International Association of Incest Victims (AIVI) will stage a protest outside the National Assembly before lawmakers vote on the bill on Tuesday.

Date created : 2018-05-14

  • FRANCE

    After uproar over two child sex cases, France to set age of consent at 15

    Read more

  • FRANCE

    Can an 11-year-old consent to sex? A French court case will address that question

    Read more

  • FRANCE

    Age of non-consent on trial in France amid controversial rulings

    Read more

COMMENT(S)