Men in France to face on the spot fines for sexually harassing women

UPDATED: A new law will impose on-the-spot fines for harassment of women in the streets of France, a minister said Monday, as the sex scandal engulfing Hollywood honcho Harvey Weinstein encouraged French women to tell their stories.

Men in France to face on the spot fines for sexually harassing women
Photo: AFP

The legislation is being piloted by 34-year-old Marlene Schiappa, a feminist and early supporter of French President Emmanuel Macron who wants to tackle sexist male attitudes in public spaces.

“It's completely necessary because at the moment street harassment is not defined in the law,” she told RTL radio on Monday in an interview to outline
the law, which is to be voted next year.

The escalating scandal over Weinstein's alleged sexual assaults on a string of actresses — including four French actresses who have revealed their
encounters with the producer — has made the issue of sexual harassment resurface in France.

The #MeToo hashtag has encouraged thousands of women around the world to share their experiences of abuse on Twitter, with French women also using #balancetonporc (“Expose the Pig”).

Schiappa, asked about the difficulty of drawing a line between street harassment and flirtation, replied: “We know very well at what point we start feeling intimidated, unsafe or harassed in the street.”

She cited examples such as when a man invades a woman's personal space — “by talking to you 10, 20 centimetres from your face” — or follows a victim for several blocks, or “asks for your number 17 times.”

Many women's rights groups want the new law to ban cat-calling and impose fines on those caught in the act.

However Schiappa has said she personally was against including the act of wolf-whistling on a list of banned actions.

It remains to be seen whether it will be part of the new law or not. 




A cross-party taskforce composed of five MPs has been asked to work with police and magistrates to come up with a definition of harassment that can be enforced by officers on the streets.

“The level of the fine is part of our discussions,” Schiappa said, adding that neighbourhood police would act on complaints brought to their attention by women.

“The symbolic value of laws that outlaw street harassment is very great,” she said.

The legislation will include provisions such as lengthening the amount of time women have to lodge sexual assault complaints dating from their childhood and toughening laws on sex with minors.



Macron weighed in on the subject of sexual harassment during a televised interview on Sunday, saying: “What adds insult to injury is… the silence, the taboo. Today, too often, (women) don't press charges because they don't dare to.”

Addressing the Weinstein scandal, he said: “It's good that (women) are speaking out,” adding that they need to understand that the shame rests with
their tormentors and not with them.

The “Expose the Pig” hashtag was created by Sandra Muller, a journalist who recounted her own experience of workplace harassment and encouraged other women to come forward.

She told Franceinfo radio that she had stayed silent about her own experience with a newsroom boss some years ago.

“There's a kind of omerta,” she said. “It's time that we lance the boil.”

Raphaelle Remy-Leleu of the advocacy group Osez le Feminisme (Dare to Be Feminist) told AFP: “I hope that tolerance will decrease after people become more aware” of sexual harassment.

“But there's a lot of work to be done,” she said.

A 2014 French government study concluded that one in five women would experience sexual harassment at work in the course of their careers.

Only five percent of cases make it to the courtroom, the study found.



The woman behind France’s #MeToo in court accused of slander

The woman behind France's answer to the #MeToo campaign exposing abusive behaviour by men was to appear in court on Wednesday accused of slandering a media executive who she said had made lewd remarks.

The woman behind France's #MeToo in court accused of slander
US based French journalist Sandra Muller. Photo: AFP

Sandra Muller, a US-based French journalist, is being sued for defamation by senior French TV executive Eric Brion at a Paris court over a Twitter post accusing him of humiliating her with vulgar comments.

Both Muller and Brion, a media consultant and former head of TV channel Equidia, are expected to be in court when the hearing starts on Wednesday afternoon.


Muller started a viral hashtag in French in October 2018, #balancetonporc (“expose your pig”), which called on Frenchwomen to name and shame men in an echo of the #MeToo movement that began in response to allegations that toppled movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

In her Twitter post, she told of how Brion had humiliated her, saying: “You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night.” 

The post led to an outpouring of tales of harassment and assault, which were hailed as ending a culture of permissiveness in France towards unwanted advances.

After apologising for his remarks, Brion nonetheless decided to launch legal action against her.

He is asking for €50,000 in damages, €15,000 in legal fees and the deletion of the tweet where his name is mentioned.

“This is someone who acknowledged initially unacceptable conduct, who said sorry, and then suddenly decided to go to court,” said one of Muller's lawyers, Francis Spinzer, before the start of the trial.

But Eric Brion contends that two tweets in particular sent by Muller presents him as a “sexual predator”, said his lawyer Nicolas Benoit.

“It is denunciation. At no time did he have the chance to defend himself.”

In an op-ed in Le Monde newspaper late last year, Brion admitted making “inappropriate remarks to Sandra Muller” at a cocktail party.

But he also accused Muller of “deliberately creating ambiguity about what happened” by linking it to the response to the Weinstein affair.

He complained of the severe personal and professional consequences of what he said was a “conflation of heavy-handed flirting and sexual harassment in the workplace”.

Many Frenchwomen made public their experiences of abusive behaviour by men in the wake of the #MeToo and #balancetonporc movements.

But there has also been controversy.

Last year a group of prominent French women, led by film star Catherine Deneuve, complained that the campaign against harassment had become “puritanical” and they defended the right of men to “hit on” women.