France will have, in a few months, an age of sexual consent. The National Assembly has unanimously approved setting the minimum age of consent for sexual acts at 15 years, which in the case of incestuous relationships will be set at 18. Although the bill has yet to go through the Senate, there are few doubts that it will end up being approved – the upper house launched the debates on the matter – and that the government will implement it quickly, as it has promised.
Just three years ago, a similar legislative initiative failed, but the wave of complaints of child abuse following the publication of The big family at the beginning of the year, it was a turning point. In the book, the daughter of the well-known former minister Bernard Kouchner, Camille, reveals the abuse that her twin brother suffered in the 1980s, as a teenager, by her stepfather, the well-known political scientist Olivier Duhamel. Although many of his influential people knew the facts, not only did they not denounce them, but they also promoted the constitutionalist’s career for decades. The work was published just one year after another book that was also a shock to the abuse of minors, The consent, where editor Vanessa Springora critically reflected on the sexual relationship she had at age 14 with a writer in his late fifties, Gabriel Matzneff, in a social environment that was also patronizing.
“Before the age of 15, it is no”, said the Minister of Justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti. This is how he celebrated the decision of the parliamentarians, who voted unanimously last night to toughen the law to better protect minors from sexual predators. “A historic advance!”, Has also declared the pro-government deputy Alexandra Louis, one of the promoters of the bill.
According to the regulations in force, which should be ready for implementation before the summer, any act of sexual penetration with a person under 15 years of age will automatically be considered as a rape, punishable by a penalty of up to 20 years. Penalties are also toughened in cases of prostitution of minors.
“No adult will be able to hide behind the consent of a minor,” said Dupond-Moretti, for whom the bill sends a clear message: “Do not touch children.”
With this reform, France will establish an age of consent similar to other European countries like Poland, Denmark, Greece or Sweden. Other countries set it at 14 years (Italy, Germany, Portugal or Austria) or at 16 (Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom). Only the most restrictive postpone it to 17 (Ireland) or even 18 (Malta).
A long way to approval
The deputies also approved a clause called “Romeo and Juliet”, which provides that the sanctions provided by the criminal code for these cases – as long as it is not a rape or sexual assault – will not apply if the age difference between the minor 15 years and the other person is not older than five years. Criminalizing legitimate “adolescent loves” would be “crazy,” argued Deputy Louis, according to Agence France Presse. That was precisely one of the reasons why the initiative of the then Secretary of State for Equality, Marlène Schiappa, to set a minimum age of consent in her bill against sexual and sexist violence failed in 2018.
But since then, the debate in France on the matter has taken a 180 degree turn. After the impact of The big family, the word was released and thousands of people denounced on social networks, under the label MeTooInceste, sexual abuse suffered during childhood or adolescence within the family. Several well-known characters have also been accused of abusing minors, such as actor Richard Berry, against whom his daughter Coline filed a complaint in February.
According to a poll published late last year, 6.7 million people, 10% of the population, say they have suffered abuse when they were minors by a family member or someone close to them. At the end of January, the president, Emmanuel Macron, promised that this crime would be better punished, in addition to announcing several initiatives to listen and accompany the victims.
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