French Women Speak Out About Sexual Harassment, Assault

The arrest of former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn for sexually assaulting a hotel worker seems to have sparked a small revolution in France, where female politicians have started speaking out against the sexism they face on a daily basis, and women’s support groups have registered a 600% increase in sexual harassment complaints.  The effects have already begun to resonate; France’s civil services minister resigned last week after being accused of sexually aggression and rape by two women who worked in the town hall where he is mayor. 

“The telephone never stops ringing,” said Olivia Cattan, president of the Paroles de Femmes, a women’s support and pressure organization. “It’s as if an invisible barrier has broken.”

What may have inspired women to speak out was not just the fact that Strauss-Kahn was publicly and dramatically accused of sexual aggression, but the dismissive reactions of male politicians, both French and otherwise.  In the American Independent, Ben Stein expressed his distrust of the maid, writing, “How do we know that this woman’s word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail?”

Women in France seem to be fed up with the assumption that, in the words of John Lichfield for the Independent, “many men in positions of authority in France assume that women are fair game.”  And they are speaking out.

“In many cases, they are very old offences, which are too late for prosecution, but at least the women feel able to talk about them for the first time,” said Marilyn Baldeck, head of the Association Europeénne Contre les Violence Faites aux Femmes au Travail, a group which combats sexual aggression in the workplace.

And the stories are, like the accusations against Strauss-Kahn, devastating.  One writer in her late twenties told Paroles de Femmes that when she went for a meeting with a publisher, she ended up at a bar in a hotel, where the publisher expected her to sleep with him.  “He said that if I refused he would make sure my book was not accepted by any publisher in France,” she said.

It’s hard to hear all of these stories out loud, especially since, as Baldeck said, many are so old that they can’t be prosecuted.  But we can hope that because French women seem more and more comfortable speaking out against sexism, more people will realize just how common these problematic perspectives toward women are – and will begin to speak out against them as they happen.


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


Rani Lyons
Rani Lyons7 years ago

everyone should be respectful of others personal boundaries. I don't understand what makes anyone think they can be predatory.

Elizabeth O.
.7 years ago

I voted 'yes!'

Alison NoMssags NoneNadaZ
Alison A7 years ago

Thanks for posting.

David N.
David N7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Jj S.
Janice S7 years ago

Thank you.

Deanna Giggles
Deanna Zimmerman7 years ago

That maid that reported the pervert should be hailed as a hero for speaking up and being the instigator for others to speak up.

Carole K.
Carole K7 years ago

Affirmation as witnessed in the resounding poll response. No one EVER deserves exploitation, harassment & rape. Sexual abuse in any form should not be tolerated anywhere, place or time. Zero tolerance continues to be elusive; & some still think that they are immune from prosecution.......

dve d.
A B7 years ago

every one got human rights of free spech

Margaret K.
Margaret K7 years ago

I am glad to hear that French women are standing up for their and other women's rights. These dirty old men should not be allowed to get away with their attacks on women. Attitudes all over the world need to change.

Joanne Pons
Joanne Pons7 years ago

I have been living in France for 37 years and believe that French women should speak for themselves, should develop the nerve to speak for themselves and shouldn't allow the opposite sex overpower them. Instead of staying simple defense lawyers or lower court magistrates, French women should advance into the higher courts, then the voices of abused women will be surely heard. Unfortunately, French law courts are very male dominated; this is why many abused women are afraid to speak up and why in many cases men get away with it. French Law has always been male dominated. It's now time for a change.