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France fights sexual harassment on transport

Oliver Gee · 9 Nov 2015, 11:50

Published: 09 Nov 2015 11:50 GMT+01:00
Updated: 09 Nov 2015 11:50 GMT+01:00

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"Stop - That's Enough!" 
This is the tagline used by the French government in an active push to stop sexual harassment on public transport.
The government launched the awareness campaign on Monday together with rail operator SNCF and Paris transport chiefs RATP. 
It will see flyers handed out and a set of posters put up in key places around the capital, encouraging victims and witnesses to speak out with confidence about sexual harassment.
The campaign also aims to remind the culprits that sexual harassment is punishable by law and groping can lead to five years in prison. 
The picture below shows one such poster, and represents a Metro line where each stop is labelled with comments from an increasingly aggressive harasser. The comments escalate from "Mademoiselle" and "You're charming" to "I'm going to grab you".
By the end of the line, the response comes: "Stop - that's enough!" 
Another showed a Metro line (pictured below) with what appear to be the thoughts of a woman who is being harassed. "It escalates from "Why is he looking at me like that?" to "I feel his hand on me" to "I'm scared" before "Stop, that's enough" in capital letters.
Outspoken French feminist group Osez le Féminisme! was one of the organizations behind the push to get authorities to take notice, and welcomed the move on Monday.
"I've seen the posters everywhere in the subway now, it's great that the public service takes this point so seriously," one of the group's members, named Aurelia Speziale, told The Local on Monday
"But you have to wonder how we got to a point in France where we need such advertising. And ideally, we could have this message coming back in the future so it doesn't just pass by and get forgotten."
She said that the feminist group joined the push to pressure the RATP to run the awareness campaign after it had recently run something similar to remind passengers to be polite and respectful to their fellow passengers. 
"RATP put up posters about how people were leaving trash behind, or listening to music too loudly... and we asked them why they couldn't do something similar about sexual harassment," she said.
"They weren't sure at first and said it would be complicated, but it's cool that they've finally done it."
Indeed, the campaign has taken to several channels to push the message, including encouraging women to share their experiences on social media with the hashtag #HarcèlementAgissons ("Act now against harassment"). The topic was trending on Twitter in Paris on Monday morning. 
Other measures saw the implementation of the emergency number 3117, which can be used to report cases of harassment, and to trigger the intervention of security staff. It will soon work via text message too for situations when women aren't able to speak on the phone. 
Night buses in western France's Nantes have also introduced "on demand" bus stops, meaning people can get off the vehicle as close to their home as possible rather than at the bus stop with everyone else. 
In Lille in northern France, the city put out the shock video below showing some of the comments that passengers had been subjected to while out and about in Lille. The video, with English subtitles below, sees one woman recount how someone asked her "Hi, can I rape you please?"
The campaign was launched by secretary of state for women's rights Pascale Boistard and transport secretary Alain Vidalies and comes months after France's High Council on equality (HCEfh) raised the alarm about the issue, when its survey of 600 women in Seine-Saint-Denis and Essonne, two areas in the outer suburbs of Paris, revealed shocking responses.
It found that 100 percent of the women said they had experienced at least some form of gender-based sexual harassment in their life while riding the train.
Story continues below…
One 26-year-old woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Local that Paris was the worst city she'd lived in when it came to sexual harassment. 
"The men in Paris take a lot of liberties... it's like they don't really care what they say or how it might make someone feel," she said at the time.
"Sometimes I deliberately change train carriages if there are lots of men. I'd rather not put myself in a situation where I'm alone with only men because I know what would happen."
She said men on the Paris Metro will often change seats to sit next to her and start a conversation, leaving her feeling cornered. 
Sometimes, it's not just words. She explained that one man, who appeared drunk, grabbed her arm and then her bottom.
"I didn't report it, I just went away. I'm kind of used to it in Paris. It's not like this anywhere else I've been." 
Even though stories of similar kinds of harassment may be somewhat common in France, it carries heavy penalties. Touching somebody's buttocks, for example, is sexual assault and punishable by five years in prison and a €75,000 fine.
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