The 1977 French Petition to Abolish Age of Consent Laws
In 1977, a petition was addressed to the French parliament calling for the abrogation of several articles of the age of consent law and the decriminalization of all consensual relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen (the age of consent in France). A number of French intellectuals — including such prominent names as Michel Foucault , Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, & Jean-François Lyotard signed the petition.
The role of postmodern cultural and moral relativism in supplying the arguments included in the petition is discussed in the following video.
This article serves as a source for the english translation of the petition.
A scan of the original French petition is available at archive.org
OPEN LETTER TO THE COMMISSION OF REVISION OF THE PENAL CODE FOR THE REVISION OF SOME LEGISLATIVE TEXTS GOVERNING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ADULTS AND MINORS. (And, incidentally, the relationship between minors.).
Relationships between children, adolescents and adults are subject to important restrictions by law: either by the notion of “misappropriation of minors” (which can be constituted by the simple lodging, for one night, of a minor), or by the general prohibition to have sexual relations with minors under 15 years of age, or by the special prohibition which targets, when they involve minors from 15 to 18 years of age, homosexual relations, defined as “indecent or unnatural”.
The obsolescence of the notions on which these crimes or offenses are based (“modesty”, “nature”), the evolution of morals in a youth that feels the excesses of a meticulous segregation as oppressive, make these legal texts only the instrument of a coercion, instead of guaranteeing a right.
A recent case has clearly demonstrated the disproportion between the penal system and the nature of the acts it punishes. After more than three years of preventive detention, three persons accused of “indecent assault or attempted indecent assault on children of either sex under the age of 15”, facts that the law (article 331 !1 of the Penal Code) qualifies as “crimes”, were sentenced by the Assize Court of Yvelines to 5 years of suspended prison. A detention of three years and three months, in a case which resulted in a suspended sentence, was only made possible because the law, by means of the “criminal” qualification, justifies the heavy procedure of the assizes, whereas already a “criminal” qualification would have made it possible to have the case judged by the Correctional Court, according to a more rapid procedure. Since the promulgation of the law of August 6, 1975, pre-trial detention, in correctional matters, cannot exceed six months.
But above all, beyond the case of the defendants, the Yvelines case, judged in open court, raised the problem of knowing at what age children or adolescents can be considered capable of freely giving their consent to a sexual relationship. This is a social problem. It is up to the Commission for the Revision of the Penal Code to provide the answer appropriate to our time, since it is in charge of proposing to the Government rejuvenated and up-to-date texts, which will then have to be submitted to Parliament.
The signatories of this letter consider that the complete freedom of the partners in a sexual relationship is the necessary and sufficient condition for the legality of that relationship.
The Penal Code of 1810, promulgated by Napoleon I, did not foresee any repression for sexual acts not accompanied by violence, whatever the age of the participants. It only envisaged the case of rape or “indecent assault committed with violence”.
It is the Law of April 28, 1832 which created the offense of “indecent assault committed without violence on the person of a child of less than 11 years”. This text, modeled on the text dealing with “attacks committed with violence”, gave the facts the same “criminal” qualification. It has remained in force until today, the age of minority having been raised twice, first under Napoleon III, by the Law of May 13, 1863, which raised it to 13 years, then by the Ordinance of the Provisional Government of July 2, 1945, which raised it to 15 years.
This “criminal” qualification leads today to aberrant results. If we stick to the letter of the text, whoever, whether an adult or a minor, will have practiced or attempted to practice any kind of sexual relationship with a minor under 15 years of age, commits a crime, which must send him to the Court of Assizes and makes him incur a sentence of 5 to 10 years of criminal imprisonment.
Text ̇inapplicable and unimplemented in most cases, because, if it were, we would see every day hundreds of boys appearing in the Court of Assizes, for having “fun” with a 14-year-old girlfriend on some beach or in some cellar of H.L.M. The legislator himself could be accused of “complicity with the crime”, since he has recently authorized the sale of contraceptives to girls under 15 years old, which implies sexual intercourse, therefore crime on the part of the partner.
It appears therefore that it is appropriate to at least decriminalize this offense, and to essentially take into account the consent of the minor.
With regard to adolescents between 15 and 17 years of age, the law already recognizes their capacity and freedom to engage in sexual relations, but with the eminently discriminatory condition that these relations be heterosexual. Their partner, adult or minor, does not commit any offense in having sexual relations with them, as long as he is of a different sex and does not incite them to escape from the authority of their parents or guardians.
On the other hand, this partner, adult or minor, if he is of the same sex, is guilty of an offense punishable by “imprisonment of 6 months to 3 years and a fine of 60 F to 15.000 F” (article 331 & 3 of the Penal Code)
In fact, from 1790 to 1942, the arsenal of French penal laws, inspired by the enlightenment of the 18th century, totally ignored any offense of homosexuality. This was constituted by the Vichy Law of August 6, 1942, targeting “anyone who has committed one or more indecent or unnatural acts with a minor of his or her own sex” (J.0. of the French State of August 27, 1942).
This text, which became article 331 & 3 of the Penal Code (Ordinance of February 8, 1945 — J.0. of February 9, 1945), is still effective, and is applied on a daily basis, thus allowing a “homosexuality offense” to remain in our country, whereas in most Western countries, since the end of the Second World War, the evolution of morals and ideas has led legislators to remove it from the Codes.
The signatories of this letter denounce the iniquity and discriminatory nature of article 331 §3 of the Penal Code. They believe that this text must be repealed, as the texts repressing adultery, the interruption of pregnancy, and contraceptive practices have fortunately been repealed. They consider, finally, in a more general way, that the provisions claiming to “protect” children and youth, such as article 334–1 concerning “incitement of minors to lewdness”, which can allow to indict any person “promoting” or “facilitating” sexual relations between minors, or article 356 concerning the “misappropriation of minors”, are, as well as article 331 , more and more incompatible with the evolution of our society, justifying harassment and pure police controls, and must be repealed, or profoundly modified, in the sense of a recognition of the right of the child and the adolescent to maintain relations with persons of his choice.
- Louis Pierre Althusser — Secretary General of to the École Normale Supérieure on Rue d’Ulm. French Marxist philosopher. Communist. Killed his wife. Schizophrenic
- Dennis Altmann, author — Australian academic and pioneering gay rights activist.
- Jean-Paul Aron, professor at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. French writer, philosopher and journalist. Associate of Michele Foucault. One of the first public figures in France to die of AIDS openly, giving the disease a human face and challenging public perception.
- Claude Bardos — Professor at the University of Paris. Mathematician.
Roland Barthes — Professor at Collège de France. French literary theorist, essayist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Marxist.
- André Baudry — French writer who was the founder of the homophile review Arcadie. Former seminarian and philosophy professor. Conservative.
- Simone de Beauvoir author. French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist. Marxist.
- Pasteur G. Berner, President of the Consistory of Paris-Nord
- Jean-Claude Besret, former Prior of the Abbey of Boquen
- Docteur Boegner, psychiatrist at the CHS de Fleury-les-Aubrais
- Michel Bon, psycho-sociologist
- Jean-Louis Bory, writer. French writer, journalist and film critic. Gay activist. Died by suicide.
- Bertrand Boulin, educator
- Christian Bourgois, editor
- Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Associate professor. French philosopher and now Professor Emeritus from University of Paris VIII. Began her career as a philosopher in the 1970s with studies of Friedrich Engels and Antonio Gramsci
- Doctor Cabrol, psychiatrist
- Doctor Challou, psychiatrist at the CHS de Fleury-les-Aubrais
- François Chatelet, Professor at the University of Paris VIII
- Patrice Chéreau, director. Also signed petition in support of Roman Polanski.
- Jean-Pierre Colin, Professor at the University of Reims
- Copi, designer, writer. Cartoonist. Died of AIDS related illness.
Alain Cuny, actor
- Fanny Deleuze. Wife of Gilles Deleuze.
- Gilles Deleuze, Professor at the University of Paris VIII. Postmodern sociologist.
- Jacques Derrida, Professor at ENS rue d’Ulm. one of the major figures associated with post-structuralism and postmodern philosophy.
- Dominique Desanti, writer. French journalist, novelist, educator and biographer. Communist
- Jean-Toussaint Desanti, Professor at the University of Paris I. French educator and philosopher known for his work on both the philosophy of mathematics and phenomenology. His students included Michel Foucault and Louis Althusser. communist.
- Françoise Dolto, neuro-psychiatrist, psychoanalyst. Pediatric psychoanalyst.
- Bernard Dort, Professor at the University of Paris III. French academic, theorist, translator and theater practitioner, writer and essayist.
- Françoise d’Eaubonne, writer. French author and feminist. Communist. Socialist.
- Doctor Maurice Eme, psychiatrist, Head of department at Beaumont Sur Oise Hospital
- Michel Foucault, Professor at the Collège de France
- Doctor Pierrette Garreau, pediatrician
- Philippe Gavi, journalist
- Doctor R.Gentis, psychiatrist
- André Glucksmann, attached to the CNRS
- Renaud Goyon, visual artistFélix Guattari,
- psychoanalyst worked closely with deleuze. The two are huge in sociology today.
- Daniel Guérin, writer
- Pierre Hahn, journalist
- Jean-Luc Hennig, Journalist
- Christian Hennion, journalist
- Guy Hocquenghem, lecturer at the University of Paris VIII
- Roland Jaccard, psychoanalyst
- Pierre Klossowski, writer
- Anne Laborit, Director of Ecole
- Madeleine Laïk, Psychologist
- Georges Lapassade, Professor at the University of Paris VIII
- Dominique Lecourt , assistant at the University of Amiens
- Jacques Lefort, Researcher at CNRS
- Michel Leiris, Curator of the Musée de l’Homme
- Michel Lobrot, Professor at the University of Paris VIII
- Jean-François Lyotard, Professor at the University of Paris VIII
- Michel Mardore, filmmaker
- Dionys Mascolo, writer
- Gabriel Matzneff, writer
- Doctor Michel Meignant, psychiatrist, sexologist
- Gérard Molina, Associate professor
- Vincent Monteil, professor at the University of Paris VII, medalist of the resistance
- Doctor Bernard Muldworf, psychiatrist, doctor of Hospitals
- Nicole Nicolas
- Doctor Jean Nicolas, gynecologist-midwife
- Marc Pierret, writer
- Jacques Ranciére, assistant professor at the University of Paris VIII
- Claude Revault d’Allonnes, professor of social psychology at the University of Paris VII
- Olivier Revault d’Allonnes, Professor at the University of Paris I
- Jean Ristat, writer
- Christiane Rochefort, writer
- Alain Robbe-Grillet, writer
- Gilles Sandier, drama critic
- Jean-Paul Sartre, writer
- Renée Saurel, dramatic critic
- René Schérer, professor at the University of Paris VIII
- Doctor Séguier, psychiatrist at the CHS de Fleury les Aubrais
- Doctor Pierre Simon, gynecologist-midwife
- Philippe Sollers, writer
- Victoria Thérame, writer
- Doctor Torrubia, psychiatrist at the CHS de Fleury-les Aubrais
- Héléne Védrine, professor at the University of Paris I
- Doctor Frits Bernard, psycho sexologist Rotterdam