Next week, French lawmakers are expected to pass a bill under which sexual harassment will be considered a criminal offense, carrying a punishment of two years in jail and a find of 30,000 euros (about $37,000). The French National Assembly approved the law last Wednesday by a unanimous vote.
The old law, which was modified in 2002, restricted sexual harassment to “obtaining favors of a sexual nature” and was punishable by one year in jail and a fine of about $18,500. But after a deputy mayor, who was convicted of sexually harassing three employees, claimed that the law was too vague, France’s Constitutional Court threw it out in May. Afterwards, a number of sexual harassment cases were dismissed. The result was a ”dangerous void,” says Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s minister for women’s rights, in the Guardian.
How France’s New Law Will Define Sexual Harassment
The new law indeed offers a more precise definition of sexual harassment as the New York Times explains:
“imposing on someone, in a repeated way, words or actions that have a sexual connotation” and either “affecting the person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating nature” or putting him or her in an “intimidating, hostile or offensive situation.”
In addition, the law will take into account all types of sexual harassment, in the workplace and elsewhere, be they jokes, innuendoes, gestures or “leaving a pornographic magazine on someone’s desk,” says the Guardian:
A victim will no longer have to prove that a harasser was trying to secure a sexual encounter. When there are clear demands for sex, such as someone demanding sex at a job interview or for a housing contract – examples of which have dominated recent French media coverage of the issue – a single incident can be enough to go to trial.
More serious offenses, including sexually harassing someone under 15 years old or individuals with physical disabilities can result in punishments of up to three years in jail and a $53,000 fine.
While some 1,000 sexual harassment cases are filed a year in France, few are brought to court — only about 80 led to sentences from 2005 to 2010.
Feminists Says the New Law Is Still Too Vague
The bill itself received support from both the left and the right and is being seen as “significant step toward women’s rights in a country where sexism and gender inequalities often provide a fertile ground for sexual harassment,” says the New York Times.
But feminist organizations assert that the laws needs to go farther. Marilyn Baldeck, of the feminist group the European Association Against Violence Toward Women at Work, said that she felt the new law is still too vague in its definition of “sexual connotation” and that it was pushed through too quickly. Asma Guenifi, president of Neither Prostitutes nor Doormats, has also expressed fears that the new law will not be “clear enough, protective enough or global enough.”
“Soul-searching” About the Treatment of Women in France After DSK Case
While legislators claimed the accusations of sexual assault against former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn had no bearing on their support for the new law, that case indeed set off “soul-searching about France’s laissez-faire attitude toward the impunity of the powerful.” Strauss-Kahn, at one time considered a leading contender to be the next president of France, saw his political fortunes and personal reputation turned upside down after he was accused of sexually assaulting a housekeeper in a Manhattan hotel last May; the charges have been dropped but he still faces a civil suit. He has since been detained by French police for questioning about a prostitution ring.
50 percent of the members of France’s cabinet are now women. But, just days before the July 17 vote on the new law, catcalls and hoots from male politicians in the National Assembly were directed at Housing Minister Cécile Duflot while she spoke about an architecture project. The incident is evidence for why the law is more than needed. But it also show how very much still remains to be done to ensure that women are truly regarded and treated as equals in France.
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Catcalls Plague France’s National Assembly, a Country Without a Sexual Harassment Law
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