PARIS (AP) – A French commission examining sexual violence against children called Friday for removing all time limits on the prosecution of people suspected of raping or sexually assaulting minors.
The Independent Commission on Incest and Sexual Violence against Children, which is known by its French acronym CIIVISE, also recommended defining sexual abuse of children as a separate offense under the law when it happens within families.
France’s statute of limitation for sexual crimes against children is 30 years from the time the victim legally becomes an adult at age 18. The commission said in a report issued Friday that removing the time limit is necessary because it can take decades for victims to be able to speak out.
The commission of independent experts was established two years ago after child abuse accusations involving a prominent French political expert unleashed a massive social media campaign in which hundreds of people shared accounts of how they were sexually abused as children.
Every year 160,000 children are victims of sexual violence in France, according to the report’s findings. Its conclusions and recommendations were based on 27,000 victims accounts that were analyzed by experts over two years.
On average, the victims cited in the report were 8 years old when the sexual abuse began, and 80% of them were abused by a family member. The current statute of limitations prevents three-quarters of these survivors from seeking justice in court, the report said.
In French, the word “inceste” is widely used to refer to any sexual act between members of the same family, including abuse of children, stepchildren and younger siblings.
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The 2021 accusations against top political expert Olivier Duhamel launched a debate about France’s response to child abuse within families. A book written by Duhamel’s stepdaughter, Camille Kouchner, accused him of abusing her twin brother during the late 1980s, when the siblings were 13 years old.
Until 2021, French law accepted the possibility that a minor was capable of consenting to sex, leading to cases in which adults convicted of sexual assault received lighter prison sentences than they would have if they had been prosecuted for rape.
Sexual assault carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence and a fine of 150,000 euros, ($163,000), while rape is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The French government eventually proposed a law stating that a child under age 15 cannot consent to sex with an adult, effectively shutting that legal loophole.
Some child protection groups still want to see statutory rape made a criminal offense. Many activists have also advocated for removing the statute of limitations for child sexual assault or rape.
The World Health Organization say international studies show that one in five women and one in 13 men report having been sexually abused before they turned 18. as a child aged under 18. Experts say sexual abuses are likely to be underestimated amid secrecy often surrounding the issue.
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