The #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment started in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein affair has led to soul-searching in France, where persistent male advances are sometimes passed off as harmless flirtation.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux confirmed that the fines for street harassment would start at €90, in line with a parliamentary report recommending a penalty of €90-€750, depending on how fast the offender pays up.
However he admitted it would be hard to catch offenders in the act.
Speaking to BFMTV network, Griveaux pointed to a 2016 survey in which 87 percent of female public transport users said they had suffered harassment such as wolf whistling, comments on their appearance, insistent stares or someone pressing up against them.
Only two percent had filed a police complaint, even though in 86 percent of cases a witness was present.
“We have to put a stop to that,” Griveaux said.
Photo: IDF Mobilités
The announcement comes as a campaign is launched on the Paris Metro and RER to spotlight the issue of sexual harassment which has at one time affected most women using the system.
The campaign which bears the slogan “Never minimize sexual harassment” depicts images of women holding onto the train pole as predators, including a shark, bear and wolves, threaten them.
The aim is to encourage passengers to react when they witness harassment, as well as to promote the emergency phone number 3117 (or 31177 if sending a text), which can be used to report incidents of sexual harassment.
Leaflets will also be available in stations to remind people that sexual harassment is a crime which can result in up to five years in prison and up to €75,000 fines in cases of forced kisses, groping, rubbing and other kinds of sexual assault.
In a statement, Marlene Schiappa, State Secretary for Equality between Women and Men, said: “These actions are an effective complement to government action.”
Schiappa has also said she expects the “symbolic value” alone of the new law to have a dissuasive effect.
Photo: IDF Mobilités
In October, The Local spoke to several women living in Paris who said the Metro was a hub of sexual harassment.
“I think the biggest problems are on the Metro. It always happens that when the train gets busy, men will seize the moment to touch you,” Emeline Augris, a 40-year-old Parisian woman previously told The Local.
“That's happened to me several times and when it's happening you can't tell who it is. It's so cowardly,” she added.
Belgium and Portugal are among the other European countries to have introduced penalties for verbal sexual abuse, with mixed results.
In Belgium, a man who verbally abused a female police officer recently became the first person to be convicted under the law that criminalises sexism in a public place, which has been in place since 2014.
The man was slapped with a fine of €3,000 by a Brussels criminal court and he was warned that a failure to pay would lead to a month in prison.
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