France targets sexual harassment with on-the-spot fines

French President Emmanuel Macron has said the bill is meant to ensure "women are not afraid to be outside".
French President Emmanuel Macron has said the bill is meant to ensure "women are not afraid to be outside".PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - France will announce a series of measures against sexual violence on Wednesday (March 21), including on-the-spot fines for sexual harassment on the street and extended deadlines for filing rape complaints.

President Emmanuel Macron has said the bill is meant to ensure "women are not afraid to be outside", after a wave of sexual assault allegations levelled against men in the public eye around the world triggered a protest movement online.

Under the legislation, which still needs to be approved by parliament, under-age victims of rape will have until they are aged 48 to file a complaint, taking the deadline to 30 years after they turn 18, from 20 now.

The law will also set an age - 15 - under which one will be presumed not to have agreed to having sex with someone aged 18 or more. This age of consent will facilitate rape prosecutions, Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said.

Together with the age of consent, one of the most eye-catching aspects of the bill, whose main points have been publicly debated over the past few months, has been the plan to punish sexual harassment on the street with fines.

Schiappa said on Tuesday that the fines, to be paid on the spot by offenders, would range from 90 euros to 750 euros (S$146 to S$1,215). They could be higher for repeat offenders or in the case of aggravating circumstances.

"The idea is that it is high enough to be a deterrent but also that we could be sure the harasser can pay it immediately, so that the law can be efficient," Schiappa said in a Facebook Live session.

However, critics have either questioned how the law could be applied or mocked it as an end to French romance.

Responding to such criticism, Schiappa told Reuters last year: "There is some reluctance, some say we will kill the culture of the 'French lover'... if we punish street harassment." "But it's the opposite. We want to preserve seduction, chivalry and 'l'amour à la francaise' by saying what is key is consent. Between consenting adults everything is allowed, we can seduce, talk, but if someone says 'no', it's 'no' and it's final," she said.

Schiappa has said street harassment would cover situations such as asking a woman for her phone number a dozen times when she has made clear she is not interested.

The bill will also introduce tougher sanctions for sexual harassment online.

"We want to put an end to this group cyber-harassment by making clear that every single person that is taking part will have to answer for it, even if they just sent a few tweets," Schiappa said on Tuesday.