PARIS (AP) — France’s top court is ruling Wednesday in a case involving three firefighters accused of repeatedly raping a girl when she was between 13 and 15 years old, in a case that has helped fuel efforts to set a legal age of sexual consent.
A lower court downgraded the charges to sexual assault, which carries a lesser potential prison term. The firefighters’ lawyer has said the sexual activity was consensual.
The victim’s lawyers want the charges reclassified as rape, arguing that the French justice system doesn’t do enough to protect a child from sexual violence by adults. France’s Court of Cassation is issuing a decision on Wednesday afternoon.
A draft law is currently working its way through France’s parliament that aims to better protect minors from sexual violence, and would set an age of consent at 15 for sex with an adult.
It comes amid growing public pressure and a wave of online testimonies about rape and other sexual abuse by parents and authority figures.
France’s lack of an age of consent — along with statutes of limitations — have complicated efforts to prosecute alleged perpetrators, including a prominent modeling agent, a predatory priest and a surgeon accused of abusing hundreds of children.