France To Set Age of Consent at 15

Marlene Schiappa

The government of France has announced that it will institute a minimum age of consent, after two high-profile rape cases highlighted its absence from the nation's laws.

Marlene Schiappa, the Equality Minister, announced on Monday, March 6, 2018 that the age of consent will be fifteen. She said that she is "very glad" that the government settled on that age, as it was suggested by a bevy of medical and legal experts and is supported by various groups that work against violence against minors.

It is worth noting that this is, in some ways, merely an extension of existing French law; under current regulations, an adult who performs a sexual act with someone younger than fifteen can be charged with a sexual offense. However, they cannot be automatically charged with rape, as is the law in other places.

Under other legal codes (including that of the United States), "forcible rape" is defined as someone forcing another into having sex against their will, while "statutory rape" is sex with someone who may have been willing, but who is not considered qualified to give legal consent because of age. Since France currently lacks an age of consent, one can only be charged for forcible rape.

This issue came into the French public consciousness with two cases from last year. In one, decided in November 2017, a man was acquitted of rape for a 2009 incident where he, then at age 22, had had sexual contact with a girl who was eleven. (This resulted in a pregnancy, with the child now in foster care.) The court ruled that she had not been subject to “constraint, threat, violence or surprise," and thus did not fit the legal definition of rape.

In another case, a man, age 28, was found to have had sex with another girl who was eleven, and was charged with "sexual abuse" but not rape; her family had filed a rape complaint, but investigators determined that the sex was consensual. The court subsequently did issue a charge of rape last month, with the trial pending as they ask it to move to a higher court.

In the subsequent debate about age of consent that followed, various ages had been suggested, ranging from thirteen to fifteen.

The government has vowed to pass a series of laws to combat sexual violence, with this one expected to be approved in the coming weeks.

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