French prosecutors have dropped rape charges against a 28-year-old man who they say did not force a girl of 11 to have sex with him. The incident has sparked mass outrage, with critics saying that consent is not possible at such an age.
On April 24, 2017, the 11-year-old victim named Sarah from Val-d’Oise, just north of Paris, allegedly agreed to follow a 28-year-old man back to his apartment to engage in what she believed would be “kissing” lessons, according to her mother.
The man named Antoine – now only accused of sexually assaulting a minor under the age of 15 but not rape – allegedly lured the sixth-grade student to his apartment building where the odd couple engaged in three sexual act attempts.
The father of two first tried to have sex with the girl on the stairwell, but the guard of the building interrupted them. The pair then got into the elevator where the girl allegedly consented to perform fellatio. After that the schoolgirl followed Antoine to his parents’ apartment, where the couple engaged in a further intimate act.
As soon as Sarah left the building, “completely desperate,” she called her mother to tell her everything. The girl’s mother immediately filed rape charges, arguing that her daughter was deceived into sleeping with the man.
“She thought it was too late, that she didn’t have the right to protest, that it wouldn’t make any difference, so she went into autopilot, without emotion, and without reaction,” the mother told the Mediapart news site, the Local reported.
The mother argued that her daughter Sarah “did not have the maturity to understand” what was happening to her and failed to “see manipulation.” She said further that her daughter was “paralyzed” by fear and therefore “unable to defend herself.”
On Tuesday, prosecutors in Pontoise, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, decided to drop the rape charges, and instead, charged the man with “sexually assaulting a minor under the age of 15,” a crime punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of € 75,000.
Authorities believe that Sarah consented to the sexual acts and was not coerced into having intercourse. She willingly followed the accused who had previously approached her twice for intimacy.
“There was no violence, no constraint, no threat, and no surprise,” the prosecution said, which are the must-have criteria for rape charges under article 222-23 of the French Criminal Code. Rape charges in France amount to fifteen years imprisonment and twenty years behind bars if the victim is a minor.
The victim’s legal team, however, argued that a child can never meaningfully consent to such an act, calling the pressure exerted on a girl the “worst act of domination.” The girl’s attorney, Carine Diebolt argued that the accused had threatened to ruin Sarah’s reputation if she told anyone about their intimate encounter.
“We should not even have this debate when it comes to a child,” Diebolt said. “There is a difference between curiosity and consent to a sexual act with a 28-year-old guy in a staircase.”
According to Antoine’s legal counsel, the “rape accusation does not hold, because there is an explicit consent of the girl.”
“The only question is whether my client knew the complainant’s age,” said lawyer Marc Goudarzian. “We must distinguish morality from the offense.”
“My client asked her age, she shrugged, he thought she was at least 15 years old,” Goudarzian noted, which is the legal age of consent in France.
Furthermore, Antoine claims that the girl had been sending her “naked” pictures to strangers, which allegedly led him to believe that Sarah has attained puberty and was much older than she really was.
The girl’s lawyer, on the other hand, asserts that the girl had shown Antoine her school notebook, so he was fully aware of her age.
As the debate about the French legal system rages in the country, children rights groups have condemned the prosecutor‘s decision not to file rape charges.
“It’s an emblematic trial of the shortcomings in the definition of rape, which is to be reviewed,” Celine Piques, a spokesperson for Osez le féminisme told BFMTV.com, denouncing what it termed a “scandalous judicial absurdity.”
“The question of consent or its absence should never arise for minor rape victims,” the Voice of the Child organization said, according to the Washington Post.
“It’s truly terrifying to think that an 11-year-old girl is supposed to have the judgment of an adult,” Armelle Le Bigot Macaux, head of the Cofrade children’s rights group, told LCI television.
The trial, which was to be held Tuesday, was postponed until February 13 to consider a procedural issue. Antoine was not incarcerated but is prohibited from approaching the girl.