Sexual Crimes: Better Protection for French Minors

In France a new bill to protect minors from sexual crimes, offences and incest (# 576) was adopted unanimously by the National Assembly on January 21st, followed by the Senate at first reading on March 15th

This bill set the limit of “non-consent” at age 15, under which a child cannot be considered to have willingly engaged in a sexual act with an adult. In cases of incest, the age has been set at 18.

This current bill arrives two and a half years after the August 3rd 2018 Law N° 2018-703, known as the “Schiappa Act” intended to strengthen the fight against sexual and gender-based violence. While it has strengthened criminal provisions to protect minors, those involved in child protection were not completely satisfied. Some called for establishing a new offence, or changing the definition of rape, so that it would no longer be necessary to call into question the possible consent of young minors to having sexual intercourse with adults.

The main measures adopted:

New offences and non-consent age limit

In the bill passed on March 15th, a major innovation would penalize sexual acts committed on children for two new offences:

  • the crime of raping a minor
  • the offence of sexual assault on a minor

With these two new offences, the draft law specifies the age-limit of non-consent at 15 years, or at 18 years for cases involving incest. The crimes of rape and sexual assault will now have autonomous and specific legal definitions, which will be used in court, making it unnecessary to prove that the perpetrator used violence, coercion, threat or surprise.

Oral-genital acts imposed on a victim under the age of 15 are listed among the acts to be considered as rape.

Originally, the bill introduced by Senator Annick Billon (centrist) intended to punish any sexual penetration of minors under the age of 13 as a crime. However, child protection associations retorted that age 13 was insufficient. The bill was largely amended by the National Assembly’s Legal Committee to raise the age of non-consent to 15 and in case of incest to 18.

For these newly established offences against minors, the penalties are stricter.

The penalty for incestuous rape is set at 20 years in prison; for incestuous sexual assault at 10 years; and for sexually abusing minors over age 15, the prison sentence is increased to 5 years.

The draft law also includes a so-called “Romeo and Juliet” clause which states that punishment would only apply when there is an age difference of 5 years or more between the adult and the person under age 15. This clause which aims to avoid criminalizing consensual sex between teenagers and young adults, was hotly debated in the National Assembly and is still strongly criticized by those involved in child protection.

Additional Provisions to Improve Protection of Minors

The statute of limitation for reporting an offence committed against a minor is extended to 10 years for a misdemeanor and to 20 years for a crime.

In addition, a principle of “adjustable statutes of limitations” is instituted for crimes and sexual offences against minors. If the same person subsequently rapes or sexually assaults other minors, the statute of limitations for the first crime is extended to the time limits of the new offence.

Lastly, the list of offences recorded in the criminal file of sexual and violent offenders is to be expanded. Furthermore, if the victim is a minor, the perpetrator is automatically registered. A typical preventive measure is added: a supplementary penalty has been established to prohibit offenders from exercising activities in contact with minors.

On March 25, 2021, the second reading will take place in the Senate. According to the bill’s rapporteur, Alexandra Louis (MP from President Macron’s LREM party), if finally adopted, this bill will mark “a revolution in the Penal Code”.

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