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France unveils tough new bill on sexual harassment and rape

© Lionel Bonaventure, AFP | Marlène Schiappa, France's gender equality minister, addresses lawmakers in France's National Assembly.

Video by Solange MOUGIN

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2018-03-21

France’s government is unveiling a series of measures against sexual violence on Wednesday, 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, says Marlène Schiappa, the gender equality minister. Its introduction follows a shocking case in which a rape charge was dropped when a court decided an 11-year-old girl had consented to sex with a man more than twice her age.

Official figures released earlier this month showed that 62,000 women were the victims of rape or attempted rape in France in 2016 and that one woman dies every three days from domestic violence

Interview: French gender equality minister, Marlène Schiappa

Another 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 ($110 to $920). 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.

>> Read more: How Deneuve’s #MeToo pushback triggered debate in France and beyond

Critics have questioned how the measure could be applied, with government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux acknowledging that it would be difficult for police to catch offenders red-handed. But Schiappa said she expected the “symbolic value” alone to have a dissuasive effect.

The minister has also dismissed claims the measure will bring an end to French romance.

"There is some reluctance, some say we will kill the culture of the 'French lover'... if we punish street harassment," she told Reuters. "But it's the opposite. We want to preserve seduction, chivalry and 'l'amour à la française' 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.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2018-03-21

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