Wolf-whistling could become illegal in France, as the country’s new gender equality minister vowed to criminalize street harassment.
Marlène Schiappa has set up a working party of five lawmakers who will come up with a legal definition of street harassment, and decide what punishments to impose, according to the Times of London.
“The idea is to characterize street harassment so that the police can impose fines on men who follow women on the streets, intimidate them and harass them in public,” Schiappa said.
She is also on a mission to close France’s gender pay gap, which the government says is 25 percentage points.
Women in France — and especially Paris — have long complained of harassment. A survey of 600 women in the capital in 2015 which was referenced in a report handed to the government found that “every female user of mass transit has been a victim” of gender harassment or sexual assault.
President Emmanuel Macron, a self-described feminist who was elected in May, pledged to tackle street harassment in his election campaign. Sexual harassment in the workplace was made illegal in 2012, but there is currently no law banning street harassment.
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“We’re in a grey zone,” said Schiappa, 34, a mother-of-two and the founder of Maman Travaille, a blog for working mothers.
“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.”.
“We will create a new offense, to define its contours, the evidence and the sanction — a spoken warning and then a fine,” she said.
The Guardian reported that fines could be around $6,000 as “a deterrent.”.
“You are a woman in 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,” Schiappa said, according to the Times of London.
She said there was a gap in the law between “consensual seduction” and “sexual assault,” and that flirting would remain legal.
“Talking to someone and asking for (a number) will not be considered harassment,” she said.
The plan is not without its opponents.
Lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel told the Times of London that Schiappa wanted to ban “heavy Latin chat-up lines,” which would flood the courts and “enrich feminist lawyers.”.