There was anger and shock in France last week after it emerged that prosecuters had deemed an 11-year-old’s sexual relationship with a 28-year-old man was consensual.
The case, which made national headlines and led to anger among children’s rights groups, centers around a sexual encounter that took place between a 28-year-old man and an 11-year-old girl in a Paris suburb back in April.
At the man’s suggstion, the girl is understood to have agreed to follow him home from a park in Montmagny, to the north of Paris.
He had reportedly promised to teach her how to kiss. But once at the apartment the man had sexual relations with the girl.
The girl’s family and legal team were insistent that the man should face rape charges, saying the girl was “paralyzed” by fear and “unable to defend herself”.
But to their anger and to the shock of many in France prosecutors decided to only charge the man with sexual abuse of a minor (atteinte sexuel).
Their reasoning was that “there was no violence, no constraint, no threat, and no surprise” on the part of the man to justify the charge of rape.
Essentially they judged that she had consented to the sexual encounter because she was not physically forced into the act.
Rights groups call for law change
The girl’s mother insists her daughter was raped.
“She thought it was too late, that she didn’t have the right to protest, that it wouldn’t make any difference, so she went into auto pilot, without emotion and without reaction,” the mother told the Mediapart news site.
One expert on similar cases told Le Figaro that “submitting was not consenting”.
Rape victims, the expert said, sometimes “switch off” and no longer feel fear. This is especially true among child victims, the expert told the paper.
Rights group Le Voix de l’Enfant said in a statement: “The question of consent or its absence should never even be asked when it comes to rape victims who are minors”.
Other groups have called for the French legal system to introduce a legal age under which sexual consent is never presumed.
What does the French law actually say?
In this case, it’s more about what the law doesn’t say. For adults, if there is no threat or violence during a sexual act then it’s deemed to be consensual.
But this law doesn’t take into account those under the age of 15, which is the legal age of consent – at least not for rape.
The penal code says that “Committing a sexual offence against a minor under the age of 15 without violence, constraint, threat or surprise is punished by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of €75,000.”
And this only mentions “sexual offences” and not rape.
In the UK, meanwhile, there is an “irrefutable presumption of an absence of consent” in all sex acts against those under the age of 16. Similar laws are in place in Germany and Spain.
The trial has been postponed to February 13th next year.