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New French law protects women from sexual harassment

Earle Gale in London | Updated: 2019-05-01 23:48

A new French law is protecting victims of unwanted sexual advances and lewd comments more successfully than its critics ever thought possible, the nation's equality minister told Parliament this week.

Marlene Schiappa said in an update report to Assemblee Nationale delegates that the "outrages sexists" law that was passed in August 2018 has been a huge success, with French law enforcement officers issuing 447 fines during the following eight months to people found to have harassed people, mostly women, on the street and in public places.

"Many of you on these benches told us it would never work, that we would not be able to define offensive sexist behavior," she said, while promising the new legislation that allows for on-the-spot fines of up to 750 euros ($842) will only "grow in power".

Schiappa told delegates the sheer number of cases speaks to the law's success.

"With this law, France has become the first country in the world to punish harassment in streets with fines," she said.

The law had been in the pipeline last year, following more than a year of development, when, just a month before it was introduced, French people became enraged by a viral video that showed a passerby assaulting a woman outside a pavement cafe. An Ifop poll conducted at the time found 90 percent of French people supported the introduction of a new law punishing such behavior.

A month after the law was introduced, it was used for the first time: to fine a man who had slapped a female bus passenger's bottom and made lewd remarks.

The Guardian newspaper said the law allows for punishment in the case of sexist insults, degrading or humiliating comments, and hostile and offensive behavior in a public area, school, or workplace. It lets law enforcement officers issue on-the-spot fines of between 90 euros and 750 euros, and it makes provision for larger fines to be issued in special circumstances, such as when the victim is younger than 15 or deemed to be particularly vulnerable.

Women can still pursue justice through the courts but the new law was introduced because few were doing so, in part because that process was seen as complex and lengthy.

Schiappa said France now plans to tackle online abuse and she criticized platforms for not doing enough to remove offensive content and to identify the people who produce it.

The problem of harassment and unwanted sexual advances is a significant issue in France, where a 2018 study by the Paris-based think tank Fondation Jean-Jaures found one women in eight said they had been raped at least once, and where 43 percent said they had been touched sexually without their consent.

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