Hate campaign shuts down French anti-harassment hotline after three days

A text messaging service targeting men "who refuse to take no for an answer" has been taken off line in France after it was bombarded with 20 000 hate messages in a matter of days, its creators said.

Hate campaign shuts down French anti-harassment hotline after three days
Photo: AFP

French feminists who set up an anti-harassment phone line announced Tuesday they had been forced to shut it down after just three days because of a wave of insulting messages.

Activists Clara Gonzales and Elliot Lepers launched the “anti-relou” (anti-annoyance) mobile phone service Friday, encouraging women being hassled by insistent men to give its number out instead of their own.

If a man who refused to take “no” for an answer texted the fake number, he would receive an automatic response reading: “If a woman says no, there's no point in insisting.”

Gonzales and Lepers said they axed the service late Monday after the number received “more than 20,000 insulting messages” over the course of a few hours.

The organisers were also targeted on Twitter with a flood of hate messages including death threats, while dozens of food orders were made to their homes.

“We were the victims of a coordinated attack against the service and a campaign of harassment against us personally,” Gonzales and Lepers wrote in a statement.

“We will try to reactivate a similar service as soon as possible.”

They added: “Above all we want a government response that matches the expectations expressed by the whole of society in recent weeks concerning the fight against violence targeting women.”

The trolling campaign comes in the midst of a global outpouring of anger over sexual harassment and abuse following the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

The French initiative took its inspiration from a similar phone number set up by US feminist pop culture website The Mary Sue following the claims against Weinstein and millions of other men around the world.

The coordinated wave of text messages appears to have been intended to bankrupt the initiative — which had launched an online fund-raising campaign — as the service sent an automatic reply to each one.

Gonzales and Lepers said the campaign against them was organised via an infamous youth forum on website — roughly a French equivalent of the English-language message board 4chan, a hub for young internet trolls.


New app aims to protect women in France against sexual harassment

An app to help protect women against sexual harassment in the streets is now being rolled out across France after a successful trial in Marseille.

New app aims to protect women in France against sexual harassment
Photo: AFP

The Garde Ton Corps (protect your body) app was developed by yoga teacher Pauline Vanderquand in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence after she and her friends experienced harassment and assaults on the streets.

She told French newspaper Le Parisien: “It all started with a personal story. I was followed in the street, I asked for help at an institution and they wouldn't let me in. A little later, a friend was assaulted. I got really fed up, the next day I started the app project, too many stories of harassment were coming back to me.”

After help from the police and mairie (town hall) in Aix she then expanded the app to Marseille, where 20,000 people downloaded it in in the week of its launch in March.

Lockdown then delayed her plans, but the app is now available across France to download on Android, and will be available for iPhones later in August.

READ ALSO The 8 smartphone apps that make life in France a bit easier


The app has several functions.

The first 'I'm going home' allows users to transmit the geolocation of your route home to trusted people in your contacts book, using the phone's location services.

The second 'help me' is for use in an emergency situation, if there is a problem a pre-loaded alert message is sent via test-message to selected contacts in your address book, giving your location and the amount of battery left on your phone.

For those in selected locations there is also the 'safe places' option, which gives a list of establishments, usually bars, that have partnered with the app offering themselves as a safe space where women can go if they are being followed or harassed in the street.

Pauline has already partnered with several establishments in Aix and Marseille and is now working on getting Paris bars signed up to the app, helped her by ambassador in the area Anita Mas.

Bars or other establishments register themselves with the app as a 'safe space' and users can then find the nearest safe space to them in case of problems.

The app is free to download but bars and other partners pay a fee to register themselves, which goes towards helping the development of the app.

Amokrane Messous, manager of the Le Mondial bar in the 10th arrondissement, is one of those who has signed up.

He said: “The concept is interesting because in this neighborhood, after a certain time, there are security problems. Some people may feel uncomfortable. For women, it's a real plus to know that they can find a safe place.”

READ ALSO Is France the home of romance or a place of rampant sexual harassment?


Street harassment is a long-standing problem in France, with public transport a particular problem.

A study in 2017 showed that at least 267,000 people, mostly women, were sexually abused on public transport in France over a two-year period.

In 2018 France brought it a new law that punishes sexual harassment in public spaces.

The new law allows for on-the-spot fines for behaviour including comments on a woman's looks or clothing, catcalling, intrusive questions, unwanted following and “upskirting” – taking pictures under a woman's dress without her knowing.