France’s lower house of parliament on Monday started debating a law to fight sexual and gender-based violence — a proposed bill that comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement but is being strongly criticized by women’s groups.
The government says the law, which is being examined at National Assembly on Monday and Tuesday, aims to better protect children under 15 by introducing new provision that rape and sexual assault can result from an “abuse of vulnerability” of the victim.
But women’s groups insist the text doesn’t go far enough. They want an explicit declaration that anyone under 15 cannot consent to sex with an adult. They say the current version of the law would minimize the rapes of younger victims.
Two recent cases prompted outrage on the topic after French courts refused to prosecute men for rape after they had sex with 11-year-old girls because authorities couldn’t prove coercion. French law doesn’t set a legal age of consent for sex.
Women’s groups are going to protest in from of the National Assembly on Tuesday.
France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, warned the government that setting an automatic legal age of consent could be seen as violating an adult’s presumption of innocence and would be therefore declared unconstitutional.
The government then decided to change the text to allow judges to take into account the children’s vulnerability.
The bill extends the statute of limitations on sex crimes, allowing prosecution for 30 years after a purported victim turns 18, rather than the current 20 and imposes fines of 90 euros ($108) for gender-based public harassment on streets or public transportation.