Is a 13-year-old old enough to agree to sex with an adult?
That is a question France is asking as the government prepares to set a legal age for sexual consent for the first time.
Twice in recent weeks French courts have refused to prosecute men for rape after they had sex with 11-year-old girls because authorities could not prove coercion.
Amid the public disbelief over the situation, the French government is drafting a bill to say that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.
French Minister of Justice Nicole Belloubet on Monday provoked consternation among feminist groups by saying a legal minimum age of 13 for sexual consent “is worth considering.”
Activists on Tuesday staged a small protest in central Paris to argue that the age of consent should be set at 15.
Protesters waved placards that read “for him impunity, for her a life sentence” in reference to the two cases.
“We want the law to guarantee that before 15 there can be no concept of consent,” French feminist Caroline de Haas said.
“I don’t know why [Belloubet] said it,” added Alice Collet, a member of the National Collective for Women’s Rights. “It’s a sign of ignorance of the issues.”
Establishing a legal age of consent is one piece of a pending bill to address sexual violence and harassment in France.
The subject of sexual misconduct has drawn fresh attention worldwide since rape and sexual assault allegations were made against Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
“In America with the Weinstein fallout, there have been legal investigations, but here it has been radio silence from politicians,” De Haas said.
French women have increasingly been speaking out online and to police about past abuse.
A report on Tuesday night in the newspaper Liberation detailed allegations by eight women accusing the former head of the Socialist Party’s youth movement of serial harassment between 2010 and 2014.
The alleged perpetrator, Thierry Marchal-Beck, is quoted as saying that he was “stupefied” by the accusations and threatened possible legal action.
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