France is about to make it a criminal offence to harass someone in a public place and that includes bugging women for their phone number and wolf-whistling at a woman.
France President Emmanuel Macron pledged during his campaign to end the culture of harassment and he is following through as a legislation is being drawn up to eliminate France’s macho culture. Several recent surveys have revealed almost all French women have been harassed in the street, on public transport or elsewhere at some point.
Marlène Schiappa, the gender equality under-secretary, has set up a working party to thrash out the details of the legislation. With four other MPs, she is working out a legal definition of street harassment and deciding what penalties offenders will face.
Details of what will be made illegal are yet to be made public, but are likely to include wolf-whistling as Miss Schiappa has previously spoken out about it. Miss Schiappa has also previously spoken about a grey area in French law between sexual assault and innocent attempts at seduction.
She said in a recent interview: “You are a woman on an underground train. I am a man. I follow you. You get off the train. I get off. You get on another train. I get on too. I ask you for your telephone number. I ask again. I ask a third time. You feel oppressed – that is street harassment.”
She added: “The problem is men thinking they’re entitled to yell at a young woman, saying like, ‘Hey, you, you have a fine ass!'”
Very few countries, including Belgium and Portugal, have made such behaviour a criminal offence. The UK has laws against harassment in general, while different states in the US have different rules, including a £185 fine in New York for street harassment, while in Minnesota verbal harassment is illegal.
But some lawyers in France believe the offence will be difficult to prove. They believe men should only be prosecuted when police officers witness an offence. Others say women should be able to file criminal lawsuits against men at a later date.
Lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel hit out at Miss Schiappa, saying she was trying to outlaw “heavy Latin chat-up lines”. He said making street harassment illegal would only enrich feminist lawyers and clog up the court system.