Over 700 men fined under French street harassment law
More than 700 men in France have been convicted of sexist behaviour under a year-old law introduced to end the harassment.
Offenders have been fined up to €1,500 if there are aggravating circumstances, such as if the victim is under 15. Fines of €750 or more are being handed out for wolf-whistling, shouting insults, making sexual noises and gestures or refusing to leave women alone when asked.
France’s gender equality minister, Marlène Schiappa (pictured), said the results from the law, the first of its kind in the world, were encouraging.
“Insulting, following and humiliating women by harassing them in the street or in a public place is no longer allowed and must no longer be tolerated,” the minister said. The legislation targets “words or behaviour of a sexual or sexist connotation”.
A man who slapped a woman’s bottom on a bus near Paris and made offensive remarks received the first fine under the law last September. He was jailed for sexual assault and fined €300 for the comments.
French female activist Anais Bourdet said while the law was an important symbolic act, it was ineffective if the police were not around.
She said the number of fines was “ridiculous” given the scale of the problem, adding that she had received 15,000 statements from women suffering from harassment since starting a project to highlight the issue in 2012.
“This law is a dressing on a gaping wound … and we cannot be content with a symbol,” said Bourdet.
Education and prevention measures were key as behaviour was learned at a young age, often in the playground, she argued.
An earlier law against sexual harassment requires victims to prove that they suffered repeated insults or suggestive comments and mainly targets workplace discrimination. Under the street harassment law, men can be prosecuted for insulting or harassing a woman once.
“We need to focus on prevention by changing attitudes as early as nursery school. Otherwise it’s like putting a plaster on an open wound,” said Julie Peignén of Stop Au Harcèlement de Rue (Stop Street Harassment): “Every day women are being harassed in France.”
She said the police often failed to take women seriously when they reported harassment. “They are asked if they had drunk or how they were dressed, or they are told ‘it’s not serious, you’ll get over it’.”
The law is backed by 90 per cent of the French public, according to pollster Ifop.
France’s gender equality minister, Marlène Schiappa. Picture credit: Wikimedia