A trial began Tuesday for a 29-year-old French man who had sex with an 11-year-old girl. He says the sex was consensual, but the girl’s lawyers disagree.

The trial has sparked debate about age of consent in a country that sets no legal limits on the issue.

The Associated Press details the controversy: 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 five 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, then 28, thought she was over 15.

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.”

“She was 11 years and 10 months old, so nearly 12 years old. It changes the story,” defense lawyer Marc Goudarzian said Tuesday. “So she is not a child.”

His colleague Sandrine Parise-Heideiger went further, claiming “we are not dealing with a sexual predator on a poor little faultless goose.”

She said as soon as children have “sexual expressiveness and you have an attitude of putting yourself in danger” then “it doesn’t necessarily mean the person on the other side is a sexual predator.”

Children’s rights groups and a psychiatrist testifying in the case argued otherwise.

The report continues: The Montmagny case is one of several that have prompted an uproar over France’s rules on child sex abusers, which are considered too lax by child rights groups and feminists.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has proposed a bill to introduce a minimum legal age for sexual consent for the first time — and includes a provision saying that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.

The proposed minimum age hasn’t yet been decided on, but the cutoff could be between 13 and 15. The bill, a broad-based measure aimed at fighting “sexual and sexist violence,” is expected to be presented to the French Cabinet next month.

 

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