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Sexual harassment: France plans on-the-spot fines

France is to introduce a law against harassment of women in the street. It comes as millions of women share their experiences of harassment in an online campaign that arose from the scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein.

France's gender equality minister, Marlene Schiappa, on Monday set out plans for new legislation aimed at fighting sexual violence and harassment.

Schiappa, 31, told RTL radio in an interview that the new law, to be voted on next year, would among other things impose on-the-spot fines on people harassing women in the streets or indulging in lecherous behavior in public.

"It's completely necessary, because at the moment street harassment is not defined in the law," she said.

When asked how to draw a line between street harassment and flirtation, Schiappa replied: "We know very well at what point we start feeling intimidated, unsafe or harassed in the street," citing as an example when a man "asks for your number 17 times" or follows a victim for several blocks.

Read more: Egypt's capital Cairo is worst megacity for women worldwide, London best

Defining the crime

A taskforce of five French parliamentarians from across the political spectrum is currently working to define harassment in a way that allows officers on the streets to enforce the law. Schiappa said that they would among other things discuss the level of the fine.

Some countries, such as Portugal and Argentina, already have laws banning street harassment and catcalling.

Other parts of the legislation will lengthen the time women have to lodge sexual assault complaints going back to their childhood, and establish an age below which a child cannot legally give consent to sexual acts.

The latter legislation comes in response to the controversial case of a man who is being prosecuted only for sexual abuse and not rape because his victim, aged just 11, is considered under French law to have given her consent. The first offense carries a maximum jail sentence of just five years, compared with 20 for rape of a minor.

Weinstein scandal makes waves

The interview with Schiappa comes amid the sex scandal surrounding Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who is facing allegations that he sexually assaulted a number of actresses, including four from France.

The affair has led to an online campaign using the hashtag #MeToo on Twitter in which millions of women across the world have been sharing their expeiences of sexual harassment.

The social media meme was sparked by "Charmed" actress Alyssa Milano.

Women in France have also been telling their stories under the hashtag #balancetonporc ("Expose the Pig").

French President Emmanuel Macron has also spoken out on the subject of sexual harassment during a televised interview on Sunday.

"What adds insult to injury is ... the silence, the taboo, Today, too often, (women) don't press charges because they don't dare to."

Harvey Weinstein (Getty Images/Y.Coatsaliou)

Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone

Macron also said he had started proceedings for Weinstein to be stripped of his Legion d'Honneur, France's highest award.

Macron has pledged to tackle sexist male attitudes in public spaces, a problem that is also rife in French political life.

 

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