France’s highest court has ruled a group of firefighters accused of raping a girl from when she was 13 to 15 years old will not be charged with rape but with sexual assault, which carries a lighter sentence than rape.
The victim known as Julie, a pseudonym her family used to protect her privacy, said she was raped over a period of two years, starting in 2008 after a firefighter named Pierre assisted her when she had an anxiety seizure in school.
Pierre, a firefighter at the Bourg-la-Reine fire station in Paris, then obtained her phone number through her medical file and later introduced his colleagues from various stations to her.
During the two years, she was allegedly raped by 20 men. Three of the men admitted to having sex with Julie but said it was consensual. The other 17 accused have not been charged.
On Wednesday Mar. 24, France’s Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that Julie, now 25, “had the necessary discernment” to reject the firefighters’ advances, according to the Washington Post.
The maximum sentence for sexual assault is seven years while it is 20 years for rape, according to the Guardian.
Julie’s lawyers criticized the court’s judgement, saying it was based on “archaic ideology.”
The decision comes just days after the lower house of the French Parliament unanimously voted in favor of a draft law that establishes 15 as the age of “non-consent” following several sexual abuse and incest scandals involving minors. Under the draft law, any sexual act, including oral sex, committed by an adult on a person under the age of 15 is considered rape.
Julie’s family said they intend on bringing the case to the European court of human rights.
Her mother said Julie has since made several suicide attempts, which has left her with a severe disability, the Washington Post reported.
The case has sparked protests in support of Julie with protesters demanding justice for her using the hashtag #JusticePourJulie.