France – New Law Passed on Sexual Harassment, Child Sexual Abuse
Date: September 12, 2018
French lawmakers have passed a law that would impose fines for street harassment and make it easier for sex with a child under 15 to be classified as rape. But critics say the law does not go far enough
French parliamentarians endorsed a new law on sexual violence on Wednesday, described by the government as a signal of deep social change in the European country. While it passed with 92 in favor and none against, left-wing lawmakers abstained, saying it did not go far enough.
Most notably, the new law, which goes into effect in September, makes it easier for sexual intercourse between an adult and a minor under 15 to be charged as rape.
Under current legislation, sex with a child under 15 years of age is considered an offense, but prosecutors need to prove it was forced in order to classify it as rape.
In November last year, a French court acquitted a 30-year-old man on the charge of raping an 11-year-old because it could not be proven that the minor did not consent. A separate case, involving a 28-year-old and another 11-year-old, also caused outrage in February this year.
‘Abuse of vulnerability’
Under the new law, judges would be able to classify intercourse with a minor as rape if the sex resulted from an “abuse of vulnerability.” Specifically, sex between adults and children under 15 would be considered rape if it were to be found that the adult abused the child’s lack of understanding to engage in the act.
According to the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest legal authority, an earlier draft text that said minors under 15 would be assumed not to have given consent to sex with an adult could have been ruled unconstitutional.
The bill also gives people who allege that they were raped while underage an extra 10 years to file complaints, raising the current statue of limitations for sex crimes to 30 years after a purported victim reaches 18 instead of the current 20 years.
Marlene Schiappa, junior minister for gender equality, said the new law would serve as a “deterrent” to potential offenders.
Adult-child sex ‘is by default rape’
But women’s rights activist and former rape counsellor Nikita Blanes told DW that the law did not go far enough and that sex between an adult and a child should not be qualified “as anything but rape.”
“Basically in the end what we’re faced with is children having to go to court to prove that when they were penetrated or when an adult did a sexual act on them that it was somehow rape,” she said, stressing how difficult it was for victims to go through an often prolonged legal process.
“If you do not make it extremely clear in a legal text that it is by default rape, it leaves it up to judges and up to courts to decide,” she said.
Fines for sexual harassment
The law also provides for on-the-spot fines for harassment on the street or on public transport, with offenders liable to pay between €90 and €750 ($105 – $876). The legislation also moves against “upskirting,” the practice of taking photos under a person’s clothes without their consent, by imposing a fine of up to €15,000 and a prison term of up to one year in jail.
The debate on sexual harassment in France was reignited earlier this week, when a video of a man hitting a woman who confronted him over street harassment went viral online.
The government says the new law will go into effect in September.