Legislation currently being shepherded in France would fine men on the spot for wolf-whistling women. The minister of women’s affair in France, Marlene Schiappa, 34, is seeking to pass  new sexual harassment laws. However, the definition of harassment and the amount of the fines are yet to be decided. 

Schiappa, a socialist feminist and early supporter of French President Emmanuel Macron wants to fine men who aggressive behavior. She said on RTL radio on Monday, “It's completely necessary because at the moment street harassment is not defined in the law.” The current media focus in the US on Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein and allegations of sexual harassment have sparked a national debate in France. On French Twitter, the 'MeToo' hashtag to encourage women to testify to their experiences with sexual harassment is among the top 10 trends on French Twitter. An new, associated hashtag has emerged - #balancetonporc ('Expose the Pig') - to report sexual harassment in the workplace.

When Schiappa was asked to define the difference between harassment and flirtation, she replied: “We know very well at what point we start feeling intimidated, unsafe or harassed in the street.” Seeking to cite examples, she mentioned that invading a woman’s personal space “by talking to you 10, 20 centimetres from your face” is a form of harassment, or when a man follows a woman for several blocks, or “asks for your number 17 times.”

Five members of the French parliament, from various parties, are consulting with police and judges to devise a satisfactory definition of harassment that can be enforced by officers. Schiappa said, “The level of the fine is part of our discussions,” while adding that police would act on complaints brought to them by women. “The symbolic value of laws that outlaw street harassment is very great,”she said. The proposed legislation would also lengthen the amount of time women would have to lodge sexual assault complaints dating from their childhood and toughening laws on sex with minors.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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