Lawyers defending a 29-year-old man accused of sexual abuse have argued that the alleged victim – an 11-year-old French girl – was “not a child”.
The 29-year-old French man went on trial on Tuesday accused of sexually abusing the young girl who he met in park in a Paris suburb.
Defence lawyers say that the man and the girl had met in a park and the girl voluntarily followed him to an apartment and consented to intercourse.
His team argued it was not rape and that “we are not dealing with a sexual predator and a poor little faultless goose.”
They also claimed their client, who was 28 at the time of the offence, thought the girl was over 15.
The case has reignited a fierce debate on the age of sexual consent in France. France does not have a legal age under which a minor cannot agree to a sexual relationship. But the country’s top court has ruled that children aged five and under cannot consent.
The girl’s family filed a complaint for rape in the town of Montmagny, but prosecutors put the man on trial for “sexual abuse of a minor under 15”, concluding he had not used violence or coercion.
French law defines rape as sexual penetration committed “by violence, coercion, threat or surprise.” Last year, French courts twice refused to prosecute men for the alleged rape of 11-year-old girls because prosecutors would not be able to prove coercion.
The French government is currently drafting a bill to say that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.
“She was 11-years-and-10-months-old, so nearly 12-years-old. It changes the story,” defence lawyer Marc Goudarzian said Tuesday. “So she is not a child.”
His colleague Sandrine Parise-Heideiger went further, claiming “we are not dealing with a sexual predator on a poor little faultless goose”.
She said as soon as children have “sexual expressiveness and you have an attitude of putting yourself in danger” then “it doesn’t necessarily mean the person on the other side is a sexual predator.”
Children’s rights groups and a psychiatrist testifying in the case argued otherwise. Armelle Le Bigot Macaux, president of the COFRADE an umbrella group for children’s rights, said the suspect “knew very well she was a young child”, adding: “This young child isn’t protected today by our French society.”
Carine Diebolt, the lawyer for the family, asked the court on Tuesday to re-characterise the charge from sexual abuse to rape.
If convicted of sexual abuse, the suspect, a father of two, faces up to five years in prison. The rape of a minor under 15, however, is punishable with up to 20 years in prison.
The presiding judge said the prosecutor chose a wrong charge and ordered the case to be sent back to investigators for a thorough investigation. As a result, the trial was postponed.
“It’s a victory,” Diebolt told reporters after the trial. “The main thing is that (the girl) can at last be heard as a victim of rape … we can say it’s a victory for the victims.”