The French Parliament on Thursday passed legislation, setting the minimum age for sexual consent at 15. The law came in the wake of series of allegations of sexual abuse, paedophilia, and incest levelled against some of France’s prominent personalities.
Though the age of consent was previously 15, prosecutors in France needed to prove that sex was forced to obtain a rape conviction. The new legislation has essentially outlawed having sex with children under the age of 15, characterising such acts as rape and punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
“This is a historic law for our children and our society,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said in the National Assembly. “No adult aggressor will be able to claim the consent of a minor younger than 15-years-old.”
The vote in favour of the bill was unanimous in its final reading, the Assembly said.
Some concerns were raised by the French legislators that an age of consent below which sex automatically constituted rape might criminalise a consensual sexual relationship between a minor and a person just a few years older.
As a result, a “Romeo and Juliet” clause was introduced in the legislation that permitted sexual relationship between a minor and an individual up to five years older. However, the clause will not apply in cases of sexual abuse.
The law also comes down hard on online paedophilia, with any person trying to raise children aged under 15 for sexual acts over the internet-facing up to 10 years in prison and a fine of €150,000 ($180,000).
Besides, the legislation criminalises incestuous sex with a minor under 18 and considers it to be rape.
France’s MeToo reckoning as prominent intellectuals face accusations of sexual abuse, paedophilia and incest
In what could be described as a delayed reaction to the global #MeToo movement, France is in the throes of a social churn as powerful men from some of the most prominent fields —politics, sports, the news media, academia and the arts — have faced direct and public accusations of sexual abuse, paedophilia and incest in a society that had long shrugged off sex between two adults and minors as a harmless and intimately private affair.
However, the conscience of France’s civil society was stirred after allegations of sexual abuse and paedophile were levelled against celebrated French author Gabriel Matzneff. Incidentally, Matzneff had openly talked for decades about engaging in paedophilia and defending and justifying child sexual abuse through his books and public appearances.
Soon thereafter, several prominent personalities were accused of either indulging in sexual abuse, paedophilia, non-consensual sex and incest. The issue of consent repeatedly came up after a 28-year-old man, who had sex with an 11-year-old girl in a park, was charged with a lesser offence, and not rape.
The case had touched off a public outcry, with people asking the man be charged with offences that constitute rape. The latest legislation comes on the heels of an incest scandal involving one of France’s most prominent intellectuals after he was accused of sexually abusing his stepson.
A former head of France’s ace political science institute and a regular speaker on French Television, Olivier Duhamel was accused by his daughter-in-law Camille Kouchner of abusing her twin brother when they were in their early teens. Duhamel had confessed to his allegations on Tuesday in an interrogation with police that investigates crimes against minors.