France has no legal age of consent, meaning there is no such concept as ‘statutory rape’ – it only has an ‘age of sexual majority’, set at 15.
In an ongoing case, a man (aged 28 at the time) claims his victim, 11, consented to sex. He is therefore accused of a sex offence against a minor (punishable by five years’ prison and a €75,000 fine) and not rape – in French law rape must involve force, threats or surprise.
In another case a man who was 22 was accused of raping a girl of 11 and acquitted on the same grounds. It was discovered when the girl became pregnant. The prosecution is appealing.
All sex involving an adult with someone under 15 (18 if someone in authority, like a teacher, is involved) is punishable, but unlike English law, France considers a child may consent (in which case the offence is not rape but the lessor offence) and the issue is considered case by case as with adults.
Outcry over the latest cases led to calls for an age to be set below which all sex is seen as non-consenting and therefore rape (this is 13 in the UK).
France’s Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa proposes an age between 13 and 15 and the government plans to introduce a law this year.
The UK has no prosecution time limit for serious sexual offences, whereas in France for sexual offences against children the victim may take legal action up to age 38 if they were aged under 15 at the time, or 28 if aged 15-18.