Victims of sexual abuse and child protection activists have long pushed for tougher laws and greater societal recognition of the problem of sexual abuse and this new development has been welcomed by them.
France’s lack of an age of consent have complicated efforts to prosecute alleged perpetrators.
The Justice Ministry said systematic sexual abuse is “intolerable”, adding that “the government is determined to act quickly to implement the changes that our society expects.”
“An act of sexual penetration by an adult on a minor under 15 will be considered a rape,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said Tuesday, Feb 9, on France-2 television.
Perpetrators could no longer cite consent to diminish the charges, he said, though exceptions would be made for teenagers having consensual sex.
The change still needs to be enshrined in law, but the announcement is a major step.
“It’s very good that there is this revived debate, that there is an idea of a minimum age (of consent),” said Fatima Benomar, whose group Les Effrontees has pushed for stronger laws against sexual abusers. “This will make adults more responsible.”
An effort to set France’s first age of consent three years ago in the wake of the global #MeToo movement failed amid legal complications. But it has gained new momentum since accusations emerged last month of incestuous sexual abuse involving a prominent French political expert, Olivier Duhamel. That unleashed an online #MeTooInceste movement in France that led to tens of thousands of similar testimonies.
The Justice Ministry is in discussions with victims’ groups about toughening punishment of incestuous abuse and extending or abolishing the statute of limitations on sexual violence against children, because it creates such deep trauma that it can take decades for victims to speak out. The law currently allows child victims to file complaints until they are 48.
The ministry also says it wants “to ensure that victims of the same perpetrator do not receive different legal treatment,” which could broaden the scope to prosecute those accused of abusing multiple people over decades.