France is hurriedly instating an age of sexual consent. And that age of consent will be . . . 15. For anyone who has recently interacted with a 15-year-old, this brings up some pivotal questions.
Wait. Before this, was it legal for adults in France to have sex with kids under age 15?
No. Sex between adults and minors under age 15 is illegal in France. But without a formal age of consent, perpetrators could claim that the interactions were consensual, which commonly resulted in charges being reduced from rape to sexual assault, with significantly lighter punishments. That put the onus on victims to prove coercion, force, or threat, which is nearly impossible for child victims or adult survivors to do.
Can you say that another way?
Statutory rape was not a thing in France. Going forward, most sex with someone under age 15 will automatically be considered rape.
What’s driving this?
Two books in the last year have caused a secondary #MeToo groundswell. Both accuse elite French men of past sex with minors: Vanessa Springora’s aptly titled book, Consent: A Memoir, describes her teenage abuse with famed French writer Gabriel Matzneff; and La Familia Grande, by Camille Kouchner tells of the incest her twin brother endured at the hands of Oliver Duhamel, a former member of the European Parliament. Both writers say that high society members were well aware of the sexual relationships with minors. In response, victims are posting many thousands of childhood incest stories on social media under #MeTooInceste. This was preceded by two French men, in separate trials, acquitted on charges of raping 11-year-old girls, spurring public rage. The Ministry of Justice is under pressure from survivors’ groups to make consequences more severe.
So what’s the new law?
The proposed bill would make sexual penetration of anyone age 14 or younger a crime. The law would apply only to perpetrators who are more than five years older than the victim. These details may be adjusted before it becomes law.
What are the problems with this?
As currently proposed, the law would require victims to prove that penetration took place. This can be difficult; many other countries more broadly consider non-penetrative sexual activity to also be illegal.
15-year-olds are children with poor judgement. Why is the age of consent only 15?
The government was reportedly choosing between ages 13 and 15.
What is the age of consent in the U.S.?
States set their own ages of consent and all are between 16 and 18. But it’s confusing. Many state laws consider not just victims’ ages, but also other factors, such as age gaps (dubbed Romeo and Juliet laws). There are also loopholes, such as laws allowing minors to get married, which make it marital sex, not statutory rape.
In what way is France ‘hurriedly’ instating this? Most countries have had ages of consent for decades. This is not quick.
This is how the French government is spinning the situation. (Specifically, the Ministry of Justice said, “the government is determined to act quickly to implement the changes that our society expects.”) There’s a fresh surge of activism and the bill is swiftly harnessing the political goodwill.