Repeat wolf-whistlers face on-the-spot fines of up to €750 (£660) under a new law against sexual harassment passed this week, amid outrage over a film of a woman being punched in broad daylight in Paris.
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MPs approved the law on its second reading late on Wednesday days after security footage showing a man punching Parisian student Marie Laguerre after she responded to his lewd advances went viral.
However, feminist groups, and some police unions, slammed the new bill against “sexist outrage” as a “huge disappointment” that would see more serious offences go unpunished and that was inapplicable in practice.
The new law creates fines of €90-750 for gender-based harassment on streets and public transportation, which will be applicable starting in September.
"Harassment in the street has previously not been punished. From now on, it will be," Marlene Schiappa, gender equality minister and architect of the new legislation, told Europe 1 radio on Thursday.
She said she was convinced the measure would act as a “deterrent.”
The bill outlaws sexual or sexist comments and degrading, intimidating or hostile behaviour, expands the criminal definition of child rape and extends the statute of limitations for sex crimes.
The law came as Ms Laguerre, 22, launched a website allowing victims of harassment to recount their ordeal online.
The site Nous Toutes Harcelement (We are all harassed) aims to collect accounts of incidents “in the street, at work, in the private sphere” said Ms Laguerre.
“It’s anonymous, and that will allow these women to talk freely,” she added.
France was appalled when media relayed security camera footage from a Paris bar on Facebook showing her being attacked with an ashtray and violently punched by a man after she told him to “shut up” for repeatedly harassing her.
She filed a complaint with police who have opened an investigation, and wrote that “we must no longer keep quiet”, adding that she took the punch “with the utmost pride” as it would help raise awareness about sexist violence.
Overwhelmed by reaction to the attack, Ms Laguerre contacted woman’s group Les Effrontées, which helped her set up the website.
Fatima Benomar, spokeswoman for Les Effrontées, said: “Marie wanted to create something that would bring together testimony above all regarding street harassment, as that is what she suffered.”
Ms Laguerre was “a little traumatised, which is normal given the attack she suffered, but she showed great strength by gong back to the bar to retrieve the film and put it on social media, “she told The Telegraph.
“Her depression has now turned into a lot of rage and fighting spirit and she is really motivated now.”
She said the site had already received 200 testimonies within 24 hours, mainly from France. She had also created a “tagueule” (shut up) hashtag.
Ms Benomar said the reaction to the attack suggested that France, and other countries, was undergoing a “cultural revolution”.
“Women are taking control of what they have been through and putting their own words to their experiences, like saying ‘shut up’,” she said.
Her group was among several that expressed scepticism regarding the new law against sexual harassment.
Caroline De Haas, a well-known French feminist activist called it a “huge disappointment”.
“Emmanuel Macron said that gender equality would be the main cause of his presidency, but in practice it is just hot air and communication, which is the president’s specialist,” she told The Telegraph.
She said that the current laws protecting women against violence was “pretty good” but not sufficiently applied.
“Today, a man in the street who wolf whistles you twice can be considered to be sexually harassing you, which is punishable in the current law by two years in prison.
“It’s far sexier to create a new law than try and enforce existing ones. With these fines more serious charges of harassment risk being downgraded.”
She said the law failed to tackle conjugal violence, violence in the workplace and educating the very young on sexism.
The law will give underage victims of rape an extra ten years to file complaints, extending the deadline to 30 years from when they turn 18.
An early draft of the bill stipulated that minors under 15 would be assumed not to have given consent to sex with an older person. But the new law waters that down, stating that sex between an adult and a person of 15 or under can only be considered rape if the younger party was judged not competent to give consent.
France’s highest legal authority, the Conseil d’Etat, had advised that the previous version could be ruled unconstitutional.
Police unions were circumspect.
Linda Kebbab of Unité SGP Police said: “All police are saying this law is all about spin but totally inapplicable.”
“For a fine to be handed out, a police officer must see the offence with his or her own eyes.
“Telling an officer you’ve been insulted or harassed is like saying a motorist has just gone through a red light: he’ll agree with you that it’s bad but without catching the person in the act, he can do nothing.”