A court in the town of Pontoise in France on Tuesday told the prosecutor that a 29-year-old man, who is accused of sexually assaulting a 11-year-old girl, should be tried for rape and not sexual abuse, which carries a lighter sentence in France, AP reported.
The prosecutors had charged the defendant in September 2017 with sexual assault and not with rape. In France, sex between an adult and a minor is not considered rape unless it can be proved that the complainant was coerced, The Local reported. According to the country’s top court, children aged five and under cannot consent to a sexual relationship.
If convicted of sexual assault, the suspect can be jailed for five years in prison, while the rape of a minor under 15 carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Defence lawyers had earlier told the court that the girl had voluntarily followed the man, a father of two, to an apartment after meeting him in a park in Montmagny, northwest of Paris, and agreed to have intercourse. Their client, the lawyers argued, had thought that she was at least 16 years old. “She was 11 years and 10 months old, so nearly 12 years old,” lawyer Marc Goudarzian said on Tuesday. “It changes the story. So she is not a child.”
Once children have “sexual expressiveness, there is a tendency to put themselves in danger”, his colleague Sandrine Parise-Heideiger said. “It does not necessarily mean the person on the other side is a sexual predator,” she added.
Lawyer Carine Diebolt, who is representing the girl and her parents, said, “There is no question of consent when we are talking about a child of 11 years”. She told reporters after the court’s order that “the main thing is that [the girl] can at last be heard as a victim of rape…we can say it is a victory for the victims.”
In November 2017, a criminal court in the Seine-et-Marne district near Paris had acquitted a man of rape charges, saying that there was no evidence that the 11-year-old complainant had been forced. Another court in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, gave a teacher a suspended jail sentence the same month for having sex with a 14-year-old pupil.
President Emmanuel Macron has proposed to introduce a bill on minimum legal age for sexual consent. It would include a provision that would define intercourse with children under a certain age as coercive.