France has recently proposed a new sexual assault law which includes a provision for the country’s first ever minimum age of consent. Set to go into effect next year, President Macron and other leading French politicians hope to see the law establish the minimum age of sexual consent at 15 years old. This would mean that any adult caught having sexual contact with a child younger than 15 would be charged with rape, regardless of if the courts were able to prove that violence or threats were involved.
A number of recent court cases involving adult men preying on young girls have prompted the recommended changes. Adult men have been been acquitted of sexual crimes against children or convicted on lower charges due to the ambiguity in current laws. Many sexual predators have had their relationships deemed consensual, even with children as young as 11 and 13. When the courts can’t prove that physical violence or threats were involved, they cannot currently convict an adult of rape. This planned legal change is obviously long overdue.
We know in cases of child sexual abuse that many abusers do not use threats of violence or physical violence to facilitate abuse. Many abusers trick their victims. Many abusers groom their victims into believing that they have a special relationship that allows that abuse. Many abusers use bribes or gifts. Some children may not know that what happened to them was abuse. Some children may believe they are too blame for the abuse because they allowed it to happen or because they didn’t fight back. Some children will crave that attention and affection, no matter how unhealthy. None of these things make it a child’s fault when they have been abuse and none of these things make that relationship consensual.
It is important to educate children on their rights, especially their rights to safety and bodily autonomy. It is also important to have a legal system that can adequately protect and provide justice for these children. We applaud France in these initial steps and look forward to seeing new laws that protect and promote child safety in every country.
If you’ve been a victim of child sexual abuse or if your child has been affected, there is help and support available. Call our 24-hour crisis hotline at 815.756.5228 for more information.
If you’d like information about our educational programming for children, contact our Prevention Department at 815.756.5228, x106.
If you’d like to know more about this story, consider listening to the NPR interview from December 18th’s Morning Edition (LINK) or reading the recent article on the BBC (LINK).