A new law will impose on-the-spot fines for harassment of women in the streets of France, a minister said Monday, as the sex scandal engulfing Hollywood honcho Harvey Weinstein encouraged French women to tell their stories.
The legislation is being piloted by 34-year-old Marlene Schiappa, a feminist and early supporter of French President Emmanuel Macron who wants to tackle sexist male attitudes in public spaces.
"It's completely necessary because at the moment street harassment is not defined in the law," she told RTL radio on Monday in an interview to outline the law, which is to be voted next year.
The escalating scandal over Weinstein's alleged sexual assaults on a string of actresses — including four French actresses who have revealed their encounters with the producer — has made the issue of sexual harassment resurface in France.
The #MeToo hashtag has encouraged thousands of women around the world to share their experiences of abuse on Twitter, with French women also using #balancetonporc ("Expose the Pig").
Schiappa, asked about the difficulty of drawing a line between street harassment and flirtation, replied: "We know very well at what point we start feeling intimidated, unsafe or harassed in the street."
She cited examples such as when a man invades a woman's personal space — "by talking to you 10, 20 centimeters from your face" — or follows a victim for several blocks, or "asks for your number 17 times."
A cross-party taskforce composed of five MPs has been asked to work with police and magistrates to come up with a definition of harassment that can be enforced by officers on the streets.
"The level of the fine is part of our discussions," Schiappa said, adding that neighborhood police would act on complaints brought to their attention by women.
"The symbolic value of laws that outlaw street harassment is very great," she said.
The legislation will include provisions such as lengthening the amount of time women must lodge sexual assault complaints dating from their childhood and toughening laws on sex with minors.
Macron weighed in on the subject of sexual harassment during a televised interview on Sunday, saying: "What adds insult to injury is ... the silence, the taboo. Today, too often, (women) don't press charges because they don't dare to."
Addressing the Weinstein scandal, he said: "It's good that (women) are speaking out," adding that they need to understand that the shame rests with their tormentors and not with them.
The "Expose the Pig" hashtag was created by Sandra Muller, a journalist who recounted her own experience of workplace harassment and encouraged other women to come forward.
She told Franceinfo radio that she had stayed silent about her own experience with a newsroom boss some years ago.
"There's a kind of omerta," she said. "It's time that we lance the boil."
Raphaelle Remy-Leleu of the advocacy group Osez le Feminisme (Dare to Be Feminist) told AFP: "I hope that tolerance will decrease after people become more aware" of sexual harassment.
"But there's a lot of work to be done," she said.
A 2014 French government study concluded that one in five women would experience sexual harassment at work during their careers.
Only five percent of cases make it to the courtroom, the study found.