France harassment law hands out 447 fines in first months

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Women discuss street harassment in France

French courts have handed down 447 fines in the past eight months under new laws to tackle street harassment of women.

The "outrages sexistes" law was passed in August 2018, and allows for on-the-spot fines of up to €750 (£650).

The first fine was handed down a month later to a man who slapped a woman's bottom on a bus and made lewd remarks.

Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa said the number of cases since had proved such measures work.

In a progress report to the French parliament, she said the figures were nothing to be ashamed of.

"Many of you on these benches told us it would never work, that we would not be able to define offensive sexist behaviour," she said - and promised that the deterrent would "grow in power".

Image source, Getty Images
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A young woman makes her views clear on International Women's Day 2019 in Paris

She did, however, point to online abuse as an area where more needed to be done - saying some platforms such as Twitter were not co-operative in identifying the individuals behind accounts and removing offending content.

The new law allows for fines between €90 and and €750 to be issued on the spot - a measure chosen because of the high number of women who do not want to engage in a lengthy and difficult formal complaint process.

It had been planned for well over a year, but came into effect just a month after a video of a man assaulting a woman sitting at a café shocked viewers in France and around the world.

At the same time, France had been grappling with sexual equality issues as its own version of the #MeToo movement – #BalanceTonPorc ("rat on your pig") – gained traction.

A study released in early 2018 by Paris-based think tank Fondation Jean Jaurès found that one in eight French women had been raped at least once in their lives, while 43% had been touched in a sexual manner without their consent.