A commission into juvenile sexual violence has found that attacks can start at a very young age, Jane Marshall reports
Nearly one in three children who commits acts of sexual violence is aged 12 or under, according to an official report.
The first national inquiry into sex abuse by schoolchildren against their peers found that during the first three months of this school year 242 cases of sexual violence between pupils were reported.
The inquiry was headed by Catherine Champrenault, a magistrate, who was nominated by schools minister Segol ne Royal to co-ordinate policy on prevention of paedophilia and child abuse.
Ms Royal was concerned about statistics showing that one girl in eight and one boy in 10 were sexually abused before they were 20.
Ms Champrenault presented the findings of her Commission on Prevention of Sexual Violence earlier this month. It reported that 7 per cent of the incidents were rapes and a further 12 per cent were classified as serious sex attacks. Almost a fifth were carried out by two or more children acting together.
Lower secondary pupils were most likely to be involved in the violence, but children of all ages were implicated.
"Nursery and primary schools are also confronted by the problem of children's sexual aggressiveness," said the report.
For the youngest, up to age 11, "aggressive sexual acts or hyper-sexualised behaviour are in the great majority of cases the result of serious maltreatment, sexual abuse or educational deficiencies which need handling either by child welfare services or intervention by the courts," said the report.
However, while family difficulties might account for some teenage sexual violence, Ms Champrenault said, there could be other underlying explanations. These included gang membership; victim vulnerability due to psychological weakness; a mistaken belief that a victim was consenting; and indifference to a victim's anguish, considered as part of a game.
Seventy per cent of incidents were referred to the public prosecutor. Such offences range from inappropriate sexual approaches and indecent assault - misdemeanours for which an adult would face five years in prison - to rape. Under-18s appear before special courts, and those over 13 could face custodial sentences which are half those for an adult. Under-13s are not criminally responsible under French law, but juvenile courts can order their detention or psychological examination.
After hearing evidence from commission members who linked pornographic films with child sex offences, Ms Royal called on television companies to stop broadcasting them, and for videos to carry reminders that allowing children to watch excessively violent or pornographic material was a criminal offence.