France seeks to toughen the national law on the age of consent amid public pressure to tackle the issue of incestuous abuse. A bill to that effect has been proposed by the country's Secretary of State for Child Protection. The legislation will criminalise any sexual act by an adult with a minor under the age of 15. The bill needs to be approved by both houses of parliament before it becomes a law. A justice ministry spokesperson told Politico that the proposed changes will come in the form of amendments to an existing law on sexual violence against minors.
Doesn't France Have an Age of Consent?
Sex between an adult and a minor is banned in France, however, the law accepts that a minor can consent to sex, which results in minor punishments for adults. In addition, the law makes it harder to convict an adult of rape as prosecutors need to prove that there was coercion or violence.
For comparison, legal codes in other countries specify that rape is when an adult has sex with a person below the age of consent.
Proposed Changes and Reaction From the Public
According to Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti, the new bill will stipulate that any sexual penetration of a person under the age of 15 will be considered rape and there is no need to prove it. The law makes exception for teenagers in relationships with a five-age gap. That is sexual acts between a couple where one is under 15 and the other is not will not be criminalised.
The news was praised by victims of sexual abuse and activists because for a long time France's law on consent as well as statues of limitations have made it difficult to prosecute abusers. There were attempts to amend the law on sexual violence in the past, but they all failed. However, in recent months the country has been rocked by several high-profile cases of incestuous abuse.
One of the country's acclaimed political scientists, Olivier Duhamel, was accused by his stepdaughter of sexual abuse. In her book Camille Kouchner, the daughter of former Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, said Duhamel molested her twin brother Victor (not his real name) for two years. Duhamel dismissed the accusations as personal attacks. Kouchner's brother later told the newspaper Le Monde that his sister's testimony was true.
Since the scandal other people have spoken out against prominent figures in France, accusing them of sexual abuse. This prompted a whole movement dubbed a #MeTooInceste, with people speaking on social media about their traumatic experiences.