French trial on sex with 11-year-old fuels debate on consent

PONTOISE, France — A 29-year-old man went on trial Tuesday in a Paris suburb for having sex with an 11-year-old girl, a case that has rekindled strong debate on the age of sexual consent in France.

Unlike many countries, France does not have a legal age under which a minor cannot agree to a sexual relationship — although the country’s top court has ruled that children aged 5 and under cannot consent. Lawyers for the suspect argued that the girl was consenting and aware of what she was doing, while lawyers for the girl have said she was simply too young and confused to resist.

In a decision that shocked many, the prosecutor’s office in the town of Pontoise decided to put the man on trial not for rape but for charges of ‘‘sexual abuse of a minor under 15.’’


Defense lawyers say the man and the girl met in a park and the girl voluntarily followed him to an apartment and consented to have sex. They’ve also claim their client thought she was over 15.

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The girl’s family filed a complaint for rape in the town of Montmagny, but prosecutors apparently felt the suspect did not use violence or coercion. French law defines rape as sexual penetration committed ‘‘by violence, coercion, threat, or surprise.’’