A 28-year-old had sex with an 11-year-old, but under French law, it’s not necessarily rape

French rape law is out of step with other European nations, by allowing children to ‘consent’ to sex, despite being under the supposed age of consent

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 2:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 2:19pm

He told her that he would “teach her how to kiss.”

That’s how a 28-year-old man lured an 11-year-old child back to his apartment when the pair met in April. The man had approached the girl twice before. This time, she followed him back to his home in a Paris suburb. Once inside, the pair had sex in a stairwell.

Afterward, the girl told her parents, who went to the police. The man, they said, had raped their daughter. But this week, French prosecutors declined to charge the man with that crime. They had no evidence, they said, that he had been violent or that he’d constrained the girl or threatened her. And under French law, that means the girl had “consented” to sex.

Instead, the man has been charged with sexual abuse of a minor. He will go on trial in February.

The question of consent or its absence should never arise for minor rape victims
Advocacy group Voice of the Child

The girl’s lawyer, Carine Diebolt, denounced the prosecutors’ decision. The defendant was aggressive with the girl, Diebolt said. He threatened to ruin her reputation if she told anyone. The lawyer argued, too, that a child can never meaningfully consent to sex with an adult, no matter what. “We should not even have this debate when it comes to a child,” Diebolt said. “There is a difference between curiosity and consent to a sexual act with a 28-year-old guy in a staircase.”

The girl’s mother also criticised the decision, saying her daughter had been “paralysed” by fear at the time and, therefore, been “unable to defend herself.”

“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 autopilot, without emotion and without reaction,” the mother told Mediapart, an online news site.

The lawyer of the accused argued, however, that his client (a father of two) thought he had “explicit consent.” He also said that the man didn’t know how old the girl was. (The girl contests this claim, saying that at their second meeting, she showed him a notebook that listed her age.) The lawyer also said that the girl had sent naked pictures of herself to strangers, describing her as “fearless.”

Children’s rights groups, outraged by the case, have urged lawmakers to rewrite the laws. “The question of consent or its absence should never arise for minor rape victims,” the Voice of the Child organisation said. France’s High Council for Equality Between Women and Men has called for a statutory threshold.

Under French law, an act can qualify as rape only if there is violence or a threat of violence during a sexual act. Though the age of consent is 15, sex with a minor does not automatically qualify as rape in France, like it does in other countries. Instead, sex with someone under the age of consent constitutes a sexual offence punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $88,000. In Britain, Germany and Spain, there is an “irrefutable presumption of an absence of consent” in all sex acts against those younger than 16.

And there’s a good reason for that. As experts explain, child rape victims often switch off during the act itself as a coping mechanism. “Submitting is not consenting,” one expert told Le Figaro.