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French newspaper Le Parisien published a story on 11 November, which it updated on the 14th, about the verdict in a rape case. The accused was acquitted of raping a minor by the jury of the Criminal Trial Court (Court of Assizes) of Seine-et-Marne, East of Paris. At the hearing, the Advocate General had requested eight years’ imprisonment plus psychological evaluation. The verdict has now been appealed by the Prosecutor General of the Court of Appeal of Paris. In response, Dominique Laurens, the prosecutor of Meaux, said:

Up to 15 years, a child must be protected. You cannot obtain sex [in a normal way.] Its consent is not informed.

The case was started when, in January 2010, Justine (a pseudonym), at the time a mere 11 years old, was found out to be pregnant by her family. Until that point, the child had never mentioned the ‘bad meeting’ that had taken place one evening in August 2009, with the then 22-year-old suspect, who is originally from Cape Verde.

Originally from Congo, Justine, then living in Nevers in the North-East of France, spent her holidays with her uncle in Seine-et-Marne. When she was playing at the foot of the building with her cousin, a man approached her.

Justine always claimed that she told this stranger her age. Nevertheless, he asked her to accompany him to the park and she accepted. There, he began to undress her and asked her to lie down on the ground. He held her hands and penetrated her. She asked him to stop, but he continued. A few minutes later, she returned to her uncle, not saying anything. Justine gave birth in May 2010, to a little boy, who was placed with a foster family.

It was only in July 2012 that the alleged rapist was interrogated in Portugal, where he lived. He confirmed his visit to France in 2009. It was during a visit to family in Champs-sur-Marne that he met Justine, he said. In his hearing, he claims that she told him she was “15-16 years old” and that nothing had happened between them. Upon travelling to France in 2014, he was taken into police custody and investigated by an investigative judge and placed under judicial control. By that time, he recognised that there had been a sexual relationship, which he presented as having been consensual. Samir Mbarki, his defence lawyer, stated that:

My client maintained at the hearing that the complainant lied to him about her age. He says they flirted.

That this line of reasoning was enough to get the defendant acquitted stuns Justine’s mother, Chantal (pseudonym). Chantal says her daughter has locked herself in her room ever since the decision of the Court. She says:

This man has destroyed the life of my daughter, who has fallen into his trap. After the rape, she was placed in another family because she was pregnant, to avoid contact with the neighbours. I thought the court’s verdict would relieve me, but instead it has increased my anxieties. The jurors, are they parents? Would they leave their child on the streets for someone to sleep with?

Stéphanie, a social worker with the Interstice Association in Nevers has known Justine since January 2010. She says of Justine:

When I met her, although she was pregnant, she had a girlish physique. She could not be confused with a teenager or woman. She was low-lying, inhibited. Today, she speaks to me a little more easily because we have built a relationship based on trust. When she told about the rape at the bar, she was crying. But during the rest of the hearing, she did not move. She suffered honourably, keeping her emotions under control.

Stéphanie says Justine has always told the same story about her rape, giving as her opinion that

if she did not talk about what happened just after, it was because she was ashamed, trying to forget and not aware of being pregnant.