French catcallers face new 90-euro fine

People walk along the banks of the Seine River in Paris on Feb 22, 2018.
People walk along the banks of the Seine River in Paris on Feb 22, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - Sexual harassment on French streets or in public transport will be punished by a new on-the-spot fine of 90 euros, a government spokesman said Tuesday (March 6), while admitting it would be hard to catch offenders in the act.

The #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment started in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein affair has led to soul-searching in France, where persistent male advances are sometimes passed off as harmless flirtation Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux confirmed that the fines for street harassment would start at 90 euros (S$147), in line with a parliamentary report recommending a penalty of 90-750 euros, depending on how fast the offender pays up.

Speaking to BFMTV network, Griveaux pointed to a 2016 survey in which 87 per cent of female public transport users said they had suffered harassment such as wolf whistling, comments on their appearance, insistent stares or someone pressing up against them.

Only 2 per cent had filed a police complaint, even though in 86 per cent of cases a witness was present.

"We have to put a stop to that," Griveaux said.

President Emmanuel Macron has made tackling sexism and predatory behaviour a core priority.

On Monday, the government confirmed plans to set a minimum age of sexual consent of 15, after a public outcry over a man who was acquitted of rape for sex with an 11-year-old girl to which a court found she had consented.

Later this month it will unveil the Bill criminalising sexist remarks or gestures in public places.

The Paris metro has already begun regularly informing riders of round-the-clock emergency numbers to call or text to report incidents.

Griveaux admitted it would be difficult for the police to catch harassers red-handed. "But it's better than nothing," he said.

Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa has said she expects the "symbolic value" alone of the new law to have a dissuasive effect.

Belgium and Portugal are among the other European countries to have introduced penalties for verbal sexual abuse, with mixed results.

In Belgium, offenders risk up to a year in jail.

Griveaux said France would attempt to learn from others "what works and what doesn't".