A government official in France has suggested that 13 is a reasonable age when individuals can consent to sex, a remark that has inpsired protests and has advocates concerned that predators will be enabled.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that in a radio interview French justice minister Nicole Belloubet said that 13 was a "limit worth considering." Current law states that an adult who engages in a sex act with someone under the age of 15 "without violence, coercion, threat or surprise" can be prosecuted for "sexual abuse," but not rape.
Advocates who combat sexual exploitation are criticizing her statement.
"There is a worldwide crisis of sexual exploitation of children, and such a policy change would benefit adult sexual predators who wish to prey on children, because the law would provide them a false veneer of legitimacy in their exploits," said Patrick Trueman, president of the Washington-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation in an email Wednesday to The Christian Post.
"The children involved, however, would be subject to significant harm," he said. "Medical and social science clearly indicate that the judgement centers of a thirteen-year-old's brain are not fully formed, rendering a child that age incapable of legitimately consenting to a sexual relationship with an adult."
The age of consent question has been brought into focus in France in light of recent cases, one of which concluded last week where a jury acquitted a 30-year-old man accused of raping an 11-year old girl in 2009, when he was 22. The jury found that although there had been a sexual relationship — the girl's parents found out when she became pregnant and alerted police — it did not meet the French legal definition of rape. The girl's child is now seven and is reportedly in foster care, the BBC noted Monday.
Similarly, in a separate case, French media have also reported that the prosecutor's office in Pontoise, approximately 20 miles from Paris, moved that a 28-year-old man suspected of having sex with 11-year-old girl be tried not for rape but sexual abuse because of how rape is defined in French law. In both cases authorities were not able to prove "coercion." Absent such proof the most one can be charged with in France is "sexual abuse of a minor" which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $87,000.
Women's rights activists in France are disgusted, and a small gathering of them protested in central Paris Tuesday, arguing that 15 should be the legal age. Several waved signs referring to the recent cases which read: "for him impunity, for her a life sentence."
"We want the law to guarantee that before 15 there can be no concept of consent," French feminist activist Caroline de Haas said, according to ABC News Tuesday.
Alice Collet, a member of the National Collective for Women's Rights, added: "I don't know why (Belloubet) said it."
"It's a sign of ignorance of the issues."
In the United States age of consent laws vary by state but the age ranges from 16 to 18. What are known as Romeo and Juliet laws exist, also known as "close in age exemptions, which allows for small age differences in consenting sexual relationships in order to protect people from being labeled sex offenders when one party is slightly underage. In the United Kingdom, 16 is the legal age of sexual consent, and children under the age of 13 have additional protections declaring they can never consent to sexual activity.
In the United States, age of consent laws have also been in the news due to allegations that Alabama's Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Roy Moore, "dated" and sexually abused high school girls when he was in his 30s.