Europe

Sexual harassment: French political 'impunity' attacked

file photo of Denis Baupin Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption The allegations against Denis Baupin have sparked calls for change

A campaign has been launched to tackle sexual harassment in French politics after the deputy speaker of parliament quit over allegations against him.

Some 500 MPs and activists have demanded an end to impunity.

It comes after several female politicians told French media that Denis Baupin had groped or sent explicit messages to them.

Mr Baupin denies the allegations and has said he will sue the publications involved.

Sexual harassment case leaves bitter taste

The Paris prosecutor's office has said it is opening a preliminary investigation into the claims.

Image copyright @libe
Image caption "End the silence" - Liberation's front page

The demand, published in the newspaper Liberation under the front page headline "Levons l'omerta" - "end the silence" - says women in French politics continue to share information about men to avoid because the men are never held accountable for their sexually aggressive behaviour.

This, say the signatories, must now change and those who commit abuses must be accused publicly.

The newspaper says a similar letter written last year (in French) by female political journalists about their experiences at the hands of predatory males generated lots of debate, but very little action.

It says the same was true of the scandal over the sexual activities of former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was acquitted last year of "aggravated pimping" charges.

An online petition linked to the latest demand has gained thousands of signatures and tweets on the topic have spread under the hashtag #levonslomerta.

Image copyright @pelletiermoniqu
Image caption "Baupin - the victims speak, finally - bravo! As Minister for Women in 1979 I was attacked by a senator - shame on me for my silence!"

The campaign has seen new claims of abuse emerge on social media, including one by a former Minister for Women who applauded the MPs who had made claims about Mr Baupin's behaviour and said she was ashamed that she had not until now spoken out about an attack on her in 1979.

Image copyright @auroreberge
Image caption "This evening. A (still too) common scene in political life. They will not change unless we speak out"

Meanwhile, current MP Aurore Berge tweeted that the "Affaire Baupin" had not yet changed the approach of one male MP.

She described how on Monday evening she was greeted with the comment "When I see you, I want to do a Baupin to you" as well as a vulgar pun on her name referring to a shepherd's crook.

"It's gross, it's pathetic. He was as old as my father," she said.

But she also described how difficult it is to know how to react to such comments.

"You are staggered. Blocked. Should you slap him? Everyone would look at you. You don't laugh? Clearly you were not meant for a life in politics. And anyway, wasn't it funny?" she said.

"You look at yourself. You say to yourself that you shouldn't have worn that blouse. Instinctively, you hide yourself and cover up as if you were the guilty one. And a reflex makes you laugh. Because after all we are French and so we have to laugh about such things."

Image copyright @carolinedehaas
Image caption "Am I allowed to call someone a 'pathetic jerk' on Twitter? It's for a friend..."

Other dismissive reactions to the Baupin scandal have also been decried.

Well-known feminist and left-wing activist Caroline de Haas called right-wing MP Pierre Lellouche a "pathetic jerk" after Mr Lellouche reacted to the Baupin allegations by saying he would not comment on "chicks and their affairs".

And the four women who have accused Mr Baupin of making unwanted advances have continued to speak about their alleged experiences.

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image copyright @debostelen
Image caption "The code of silence and cover ups between friends, he knew"

Elen Debost, a regional secretary for the Green Party (Europe Ecologie Les Verts or EELV in French) of which Mr Baupin was previously a member, told French TV that she believed Mr Baupin had carried out the alleged acts as "a way of spitting in our faces".

She also expressed scepticism about the reaction of Green Party head Francois de Rugy, who told French radio he was "stunned" by the affair.

"The code of silence and cover ups between friends, he knew," she wrote.

Image copyright @emmacosse
Image caption "As a woman, wife and mother I feel very affected. I've never condoned violence against women. The allegations are serious and Denis Baupin denies them. There has to be an investigation"

Mr Baupin's wife, Housing Minister Emmanuelle Cosse, said she was taking the allegations against her husband seriously.

"There has to be an investigation," she wrote.

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