In a bid to eliminate France’s macho culture, legislation is being drawn up to make it a criminal offence to harass someone in a public place.
Marlène Schiappa, the Gender Equality Minister has called for legislation to make street harassment a crime and set up a working party to thrash out the details, which could cover wolf-whistling.
With four other MPs, she is working out a legal definition of street harassment and deciding what penalties offenders will face.
Under the proposed legislation, it could soon become a criminal offence to wolf whistle at women or to bug them for their phone number. Explaining the reason behind her move, Schiappa said:
“We’re in a grey zone. Nowadays, when a woman is whistled at in the street, insulted or followed, that’s not classed as an assault or harassment because there are no elements of proof.
“There is no point filing a complaint against X because the details are not sufficient. It’s absolutely necessary to frame the situation and to get rid of the definition of harassment that we have today.”
Miss Schiappa has previously spoken about a grey area in French law between sexual assault and innocent attempts at seduction. In a recent interview, she said:
“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.Loading...
“The problem is men thinking they’re entitled to yell at a young woman, saying like, ‘Hey, you, you have a fine ass!’”
The crackdown comes after surveys show virtually all French women have been harassed on public transport, in the street or elsewhere at some point.
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.
However, some lawyers believe the offence will be difficult to prove. While some lawyers believe prosecutions should only happen when police officers witness an offence, others say women should be able to file criminal lawsuits against men at a later date. Another argument has it that making street harassment illegal would only enrich feminist lawyers and clog up the court system.
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.