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Girls & Women

First Man Fined Under France’s New Sexual Harassment Law


Why Global Citizens Should Care
France recently passed legislation to ban sexual harassment in public spaces, including catcalling. This first prosecution shows the country is serious about cracking down on sexual violence and gender discrimination. You can take action here to advance gender equality globally and help #LeveltheLaw.

France isn’t just talking the talk. The country has prosecuted its first offender for catcalling since banning street sexual harassment in August, showing that it’s serious about making public spaces safer for women.

The man was fined €300 (approximately $350) for slapping a young woman’s butt and making a lewd comment about her body as he boarded a busy bus in a Parisian suburb, Reuters reported.

Noticing the comotion, the bus driver jammed the doors closed to detain the offender until the police arrived. The man received a nine-month jail sentence in addition to the fine — three months for “an act of outright sexual aggression” and another six for attacking the bus driver. The latter sentence has been suspended, a prosecutor told CNN.

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Redouble Their Efforts By Amending Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

"Bravo for the bus driver's quick-wittedness and the penalty imposed. Together we will put an end to sexist and sexual violence," Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa, who developed and advocated for the law, said of the incident.

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination remain common in France, in large part due to stubborn cultural beliefs.

“There is a longstanding commitment to the notion that the French do gender relations differently — especially from prudish Americans — and that has to do with the French understanding of seduction. Seduction is the alternative to thinking about it as sexual harassment,” Joan Scott, a professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, whose work focuses on French history and gender dynamics, told the New York Times last year.

Though the recent prosecution reflects the country’s commitment to challenging these norms, the message may be slow to sink in.

"We still find men who say ... 'It's French culture, it's love à la française’,” Schiappa told CNN last year while championing the new law, which was met with resistance by some.

Read More: France Outlaws Catcalling Women in Public After Paris Café Assault

More than 220,000 women experienced sexual harassment on French public transport over a two year period, the national crime statistics agency reported last year. 

But as the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault continues to gain traction and build momentum around the world, change is happening incrementally. Reports of both rape and sexual harassment are rose in Paris over the first quarter of 2018, according to police data, meaning that survivors are likely feeling more emboldened to report incidents of sexual violence — and to hopefully bring their attackers to justice.