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Towards a law criminalizing all sexual relations with a minor under the age of 13

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In the wake of the debate around incest, the senators want to impose in French law a new prohibition: that of “any sexual relationship with a minor under 13 years”. This transpartisan text therefore sets a threshold below which a minor cannot consent to sexual intercourse with an adult. In 2018, a similar provision was dropped after an unfavorable opinion from the Council of State.

This is one of the consequences of the debate on sexual violence against minors in France carried by the wave #metooinceste and the Olivier Duhamel affair. The Senate unanimously adopted, Thursday, January 21, at first reading, a bill to create a new crime to protect minors under 13 years old.

According to this text by the centrist Senator Annick Billon, children under this age threshold will no longer have to justify that they were not consenting to sexual relations with an adult.

The new offense would be constituted in the event of sexual penetration, of whatever nature, as soon as the perpetrator knew or could not ignore the age of the victim.

However, the age threshold at 13 years for the establishment of non-consent is considered insufficient by child protection associations who are pushing for it to be increased to 15 years.

The text also aligns the limitation period with that of rape, ie thirty years from the date of the victim’s majority. On the other hand, the Senate opposed the amendments aiming to make them imprescriptible or even to extend this period.

Caution of the Keeper of the Seals

This is not the first time that the question of the consent of minors has arisen in France. In 2017, Marlène Schiappa, Secretary of State in charge of Equality between men and women, proposed to enshrine in law the principle according to which, under the age of 15, a minor could not be consenting.

At the time, several cases had shocked public opinion, including the acquittal of a man prosecuted for the rape of an 11-year-old girl, and the reclassification as “sexual assault” of a rape complaint. another little girl of the same age.

We speak of sexual assault when an adult has sexual intercourse with a minor under the age of 15. French law considers that before this age, a minor is not able to provide informed consent. Unlike rape, sexual assault, punishable by seven years in prison, is not a crime but a criminal offense.

The Schiappa law therefore wanted justice to be able to reclassify as rape “any act of sexual penetration, of whatever nature, committed on a minor under 15 years of age by an adult” as soon as “the perpetrator knew or did not could ignore the age of the victim “.

But the text had finally been watered down to the chagrin of child protection associations. In question, doubts on its constitutionality emitted by the Council of State. The Wise Men cited the example of a consensual relationship between two teenagers aged 14 and 17. When the eldest had reached the age of majority, their relationship would automatically have become, in the eyes of the law, a rape of a minor which could automatically send the adult person to an assize court.

During the debates in the Senate on this new text, the Keeper of the Seals also expressed reservations on this text while welcoming “an important contribution to the democratic debate”. Éric Dupond-Moretti called for caution, stressing that any modification of the penal code must be done “without giving in to the haste called for by legitimate emotion”.

The minister announced “a work of consultation” of associations “which participate on a daily basis in the liberation of speech, in the care and defense of victims”. He will be engaged “from next week” with the Secretary of State for Children and Families, Adrien Taquet.

Incest debate

Caught up in the shock wave caused by the Duhamel affair, the senators also adopted an amendment which extends the limitation period for the offense of non-reporting of crimes committed against a minor. Objective: to fight against the silence of relatives of the victim too often observed in these cases.

From six years today, it would be increased to ten years, counting from the majority of the victim, in the event of an offense, and to twenty years in the event of a crime. “The main adversary of the victims is, on the one hand, the silence of those who know, and the blindness of those who might know,” said Laurence Rossignol (PS).

In the wake of the Duhamel affair and the hashtag #metooinceste, the Senate has not escaped a debate on incest: it has rejected an amendment aiming, in the event of incest, to set the threshold at 18 years. age for the new crime provided for by the proposed law. On the other hand, he spoke in favor of strengthening the sanction incurred for incestuous sexual assault on a minor.

The debate should continue in the coming weeks because other texts are in preparation in the National Assembly to fight against sexual violence against minors, in particular that of the PS MP Isabelle Santiago. Like the law adopted in the Senate, it aims to exclude the question of consent to a sexual act for minors but this time retaining the age threshold of 15 years.


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