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Fed-up Paris Metro commuters launch fresh campaign against sexual harassment

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Fed-up Paris Metro commuters launch fresh campaign against sexual harassment
Women in Paris are fed up with sexual harassment on the Metro. Photo: jovannig/Depositphotos
11:37 CEST+02:00
Fed-up female commuters in Paris have launched a fresh assault on the age-old problem of sexual harassment on the Metro.

Users of the French capital's transport network will see a series of demonstrations and posters over the coming weeks, calling for action to tackle the endemic sexual harassment on the system.

A group of French feminists have also launched the hashtag #balancetonmetro - encouraging women to share their experiences of unwanted sexual experiences on the Metro, modelled on the #balancetonporc campaign, the French equivalent of #metoo.  

Just 24 hours after the launch, the hashtag had also been widely shared, with hundreds of women telling their stories of being groped, threatened or even attacked on the city's transport network.

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Sexual harassment in public spaces is a long-running issue in France. Photo: AFP

The movement was started by feminist activist Anais Leleux, who is taking civil legal action against transport operator RATP, claiming it has not done enough to counter sexual harassment.

RATP said it intended to defend the lawsuit, telling FranceInfo: "We can't say we're not doing anything. RATP is strongly committed to providing ideal conditions for good travel. 

"We have more than 50,000 functional cameras, 5,300 agents in stations, 1,000 security agents on the network. And all these agents are trained in the care of victims of sexual harassment as part of a module organised by Miprof (a government mission for the protection of women victims of violence and the fight against people trafficking)."

The RATP spokesman cited previous initiatives to combat sexual harassment, including an awareness campaign launched in 2015, and another joint communication campaign between the greater Paris Ile-de-France region, RATP and SNCF, the implementation of recent alert systems (by calling 3117, by SMS 31177). 

Anais and her fellow activists could be seen on the Metro on Wednesday urging fellow commuters to report their experiences, before staging a protest outside RATP headquarters.

They have also put together a poster campaign changing the name of well-known stations such as 'Pervers Lacahaise' (Pere Lachais) and Porc Royal (Port-Royal).

The poster also includes the figure, from a previous study by the High Council for Equality between Women and Men, that 100 percent of women have been harassed on public transport.  

The problem of harassment, unwanted attention, groping and threats on the Paris Metro is a long-standing one.

Readers of The Local have previously told of their experiences of unwanted sexual attention on public transport.

One reader said: "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. 

"That's happened to me several times and when it's happening you can't tell who it is. It's so cowardly."
 
Another added: "One of my friends was once propositioned for sex on the Metro and when she said 'no' the man tried to follow her home. These stories are so common."
 
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.
 
The study by France's official crime data agency ONDRP also shows that 44 percent of these people suffered "several acts of the same nature" including forced caresses, sexual exhibition and intimate touching - and this is considered to be a "low estimate" of the situation.
 
Several attempts have already been made to halt the problem, 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. 
 
The transport companies have also rolled out several anti-harassment initiative, including a 'Stop - That's Enough' poster campaign in 2015 and a pilot scheme on buses at the start of 2018 to allow request stops for women to get off the bus if they feel harassed or threatened.
 
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