Context in France

In France, sexual violence involving children is just as prevalent as anywhere else. It is, however, a taboo subject. In this context, CAMELEON has decided to intervene in France in order to highlight the problem and change people’s mentalities and behavior.

Sexual abuse against children

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual abuse as follows: “Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic or otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work”. Sexual violence therefore covers acts ranging from verbal harassment to rape, as well as a wide range of forms of coercion ranging from social pressure and intimidation to physical force.


While incest is not strictly speaking a crime under the French penal code, it is now considered an aggravating factor in cases that include acts of sexual violence, thanks to the Protection of Children Act of 14th March 2016 which define the notion of incest as follows:

“The rape and sexual aggression of a minor are considered incestuous when they are committed by: 1. A parent; 2. A brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece; 3° The spouse or common-law husband/wife of any the individuals mentioned in 1. or 2., or the civil partner of any the people mentioned in 1. or 2, if the person has legal or de facto authority over the minor.”

Some figures

In France, incest is a real problem, as proven by the following figures.

  • Four million French people have been victims of incest. Only 10% file a formal complaint against the perpetrating parent and only 2% of these complaints result in a penal conviction. (AIVI, 2014)
  • Incest represents three quarters of all sexual violence concerning children.
  • A quarter of French people know at least one victim of incest in their circle of friends / family.
  • The Council of Europe estimates that one in five children in Europe is a victim of sexual violence, and add that this figure “could well be underestimated”.

    What does the law say?

    The Penal Code punishes any adult who has sexual relations a minor under the age of 15 (with or without their consent).

    However, these sexual relations are punished differently depending on the exact definition of the crime: rape (a crime with a maximum sentence of 20 years), sexual assault (a criminal offense with maximum sentence of 10 years) or sexual abuse (a criminal offense with maximum sentence of 7 years).

    Rape is defined as any act of sexual penetration, regardless of its nature, committed by someone to someone else by means of violence, force, threat or surprise.

    Sexual assault is defined as sexual abuse without penetration committed with violence, force, threat or surprise.

    Sexual abuse is sexual relations (with or without penetration) between an adult and a minor under the age of 15 (even with the consent of the latter).

    The law dated 3rd August 2018 was adopted in order to reinforce the protection of minors from sexual violence. However, the law remains incomplete and problems remain:

    • The initial draft of the law included the presumption of non-consent for any individual up to 15 years old. No-one under this age could be considered as having consented to sexual relations with an adult. This concept was removed from the final version of the law.
    • Another illogical point to note: while the statute of limitation was raised from 20 to 30 years for child rape (starting from the date the child legally becomes an adult), the limit for sexual assault is set at 20 years from the date the child legally becomes an adult.
    • It is still up to the child, the victim of the sexual violence, to prove that they did not ‘consent’ to the sexual relations in order for the case to be classified as a rape or sexual assault.

    Our demands: presumption of sexual non-consent for minors

    France is one of the only European countries not to have defined a minimum age for the sexual consent of minors.

    As part of the association’s remit, CAMELEON demands:

    • Establishment of a presumption of non-consent for minors under 15 years old, and up to 18 years old in cases of incest and/or an adult with authority over the victim;
    • No statute of limitation for incest;

    • Extension of the statute of limitation to 30 years for cases of sexual assault.

      Child’s age and consent to sexual relationships