France has been urged by the Council of Europe to review its criminal law response to rape.
In a new report analysing the country’s implementation of an international convention on violence against women – the Istanbul Convention – experts found insufficiencies in the French system.
The report critiques the judicial practice of bringing cases to correctional court, making it possible to reclassify rape as sexual assault.
This “minimises the seriousness of the rape” making victims “bear the consequences of the dysfunction of the judicial system”, the report states.
The official report from the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) also said that there were not enough centres for victims and criticised the country’s legal definition of rape.
The legal definition of both rape and sexual assault requires there to be the use of “violence, coercion, threat or surprise,” whereas GREVIO says it should be based on whether or not the victim consented.
According to a 2018 report by Amnesty International, just eight European states define rape based on “absence of consent”.
They are: Ireland, UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg and Sweden.
GREVIO’s president Marceline Naudi told Euronews that changing the definition of rape is a challenge.
“Some people may freeze, others may just become hysterical. Women react differently in such situations. So we are saying use of force, that’s not a good criterion. Rape is not only rape with specific use of force,” Naudi said.
“If the woman does not consent, then it is rape,” she added.
The critiques come as France is in the midst of a national conversation on the topic that includes a government consultation process on intimate partner violence.
On Sunday, the French justice ministry released a report studying 88 murders or attempted murders related to domestic violence in 2015 and 2016. The report found that two-thirds of the victims had suffered domestic abuse prior to the killing.
Police had been notified of the domestic violence in 65% of the cases.
“The penal system is not satisfactory. This report, as per what I had asked, highlights the difficulties and the dysfunctions,” France’s justice minister Nicole Belloubet told the Journal du Dimanche.
Belloubet said that when the government finishes its conversations on domestic violence, there will be a need for new legislation.
The GREVIO report commended these government efforts, stating that the national mobilisation and increased budget on this issue were positive steps by government authorities.