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Protest across country as the 28-yr-old rapist is set to get away with minor jail term

Legal judgments are supposed to follow the law in letter and spirit. The purpose of having humans as judges and as prosecutors, still, is to get that touch of humanity that would be missing if, say, a computer programme took over. Logic is straitjacketed, but empathy and
feeling for a fellow-human are not.

So when a court in France interpreted the horrific and obvious rape of an 11-year-old innocent girl with a 28-year-old man as “consensual sex”, it was shocking, to say the least. It was part of civility and humanity that seemed to have been disregarded.

The case in point is simple. In April the man, say media reports, allegedly lured the little girl to his apartment in Paris and assaulted her and raped her. But he will get away with it.  He will only be charged with sexual abuse of a minor, not rape.

It was a little different from luring a child with candies. The man had promised the girl that he “would teach her how to kiss”. A little child is not supposed to know the intricacies that lie within the mind of an adult, let alone inside a perverse mind. So the girl, innocently enough, had followed the man into his apartment where he raped her.

A scared girl, she confessed to her parents who immediately informed the police about the rape. The parents told the police that she was “paralysed” with fear at that time. According to a media report quoting the French news portal Mediapart, the mother of the victim said: “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.”

Prosecutors, however, took a rather lenient view of the entire sad episode. There was no rape, said the prosecutors, because there was no violence involved. No “violence, constraint, threat or surprise.” Hence, shockingly, no rape, they deduced.

What the man is expected to be charged with is committing sexual violence against a minor (under 15) which, according to French laws, is punishable with a jail term of five years and a fine. That is the French penal code’s prescription. One can be happy that even the Indian Penal Code is more stringent, and if the new, stringent POCSO Act is applied, a paedophile can expect to go to jail for a much longer time.

Children’s rights groups in France have come down heavily on the judgment, with the daily Le Figaro quoting an expert as saying: “Submitting is not consenting. Rape victims sometimes switch off and no longer feel fear. This is especially true among child victims.”

What this horrific incident has initiated, however, is the demand in France for a new (somewhat POCSO-like) law where “a legal age under which sexual consent is never presumed”.

—India Legal Bureau

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