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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.

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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. 

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WOMEN

France hands out first street harassment fine to Frenchman who slapped woman’s buttocks

A French court has fined a man for insulting a woman during an assault on a bus, the first conviction under a new law that punishes sexual harassment in public spaces, judicial sources said Tuesday.

France hands out first street harassment fine to Frenchman who slapped woman's buttocks
The prosecutor's office in the south Paris suburb of Evry said the incident occurred last Wednesday when the 30-year-old man, visibly drunk, boarded the bus and spotted a 21-year-old woman.
   
He slapped her on the buttocks, called her a “whore” and referred to the size of her breasts, comments which prompted the court on Friday to fine him 300 euros ($350) under the anti-harassment law passed last month.
   
He was also sentenced to three months in jail for physical abuse.
   
The woman managed to alert the driver who locked the bus's doors until the police arrived, enabling the offender's arrest.
   
French women have increasingly been speaking up about sexual assault and harassment in the wake of the MeToo movement.
   
“This is the first conviction for sexist insults in the country,” a justice ministry spokesperson confirmed to AFP.
 
The new law also 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. 
   
Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa, who steered the law through parliament, hailed the decision and the driver's quick thinking.
   
“Together we will end sexist and sexual violence,” she posted on Twitter.
   
Reported cases of sexual harassment and violence have surged this year, with nearly 28,000 complaints registered by police in the first seven months of 2018, up 23 percent from the period a year earlier, according to the interior ministry.
 
In one of the more shocking recent cases, a woman posted a video in July showing her being punched in broad daylight by a man outside a cafe after she angrily responded to harassing comments.
 
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Women in Paris tell their stories of being groped, pestered and sexually harassedPhoto: Jean Francois Gornet/Flickr

 

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