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France mulls introducing consent age as intercourse abuse claims pile up

Issued on: 10/02/2021 – 14:00Modified: 02/10/2021 – 13:59

Paris (AFP)

The French government has supported the introduction of a minimum age for sexual consent. France is considering introducing the age of consent if claims for sexual abuse pile up. This would bring it in line with most other western countries after years of campaigning by victims of abuse.

Demand for a change in the law was further fueled by allegations made by a woman who claims she was raped by more than 20 firefighters as a teenager. A decision on the longstanding case is expected later on Wednesday.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said Tuesday the government is “favorable to introducing a new crime where any adult sexual penetration involving a minor under the age of 15 is a crime”.

His proposal goes beyond a bill drawn up by members of the Senate that stipulates that the age of consent will be set at 13 years.

Speaking to France 2 Television, the minister said public opinion has shifted between adults and minors on the issue of sex and has long been dismissed as harmless in France when relationships are presented as consensual.

Dupond-Moretti said the current requirement that underage victims be required to demonstrate that they were forced, threatened or deceived into sex in order to bring charges of rape or sexual assault should be removed.

His office said in a statement that the minister wanted to ensure “equal treatment for all minor victims” in the eyes of the law.

“We’re opening up this kind of ideological lead that prevents the victims’ voices from being heard,” he said.

– Evidence of lack of consent –

The judges will rule on Wednesday on a longtime case filed by a woman known only as Julie (not her real name). She claims she was attacked in 2008 and 2010 when she was repeatedly hospitalized for severe anxiety attacks.

Every time she was taken to the hospital, the emergency services, which are manned by fire fighters, had to intervene.

Three firefighters were originally charged with gang rape, but the charges were later downgraded to sexual harm under law that makes it a criminal offense – but not a crime – for someone in a position of authority to have sex with a minor.

To prove rape, victims in France must prove that they were forced to have sex, even if they were a minor.

The firefighters insist that Julie consented to the sex, but her family say she is extremely vulnerable and unable to give consent. She herself insisted that she never explicitly consented to sex.

On Wednesday the French Supreme Court will rule on his appeal against the downgrading of the charges.

– ‘Free speech’ –

Julie’s decade-long pursuit of justice has sparked a wave of support from feminists, hundreds of whom have held protests outside courthouses to push for a change to the sexual consent law.

Dupond-Moretti supported their calls, saying the complainants still had to prove that their attackers knew their age and that exceptions should be made for sexual relations between young people of close age.

Child sexual abuse exploded on front pages in France last month after former Foreign Secretary Bernard Kouchner’s daughter published a book accusing her stepfather, prominent political commentator Olivier Duhamel, of molesting her twin brother as a child.

The revelations sparked a spate of reports of family sexual abuse on social media, similar to the #metoo wave of sexual harassment and abuse stories sparked by the 2017 case against US film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

President Emmanuel Macron has called for legislative changes to better protect victims of child sexual abuse.

It is a shame to switch sides from victims to perpetrators, he said in a video posted on Twitter, welcoming the fact that “people feel free to speak anywhere in France”.

burs-cb / jh / jxb