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Where are the men? Paris transport under fire over sexual harassment campaign

RATP | A brown bear menaces a lone woman in one of the criticised campaign posters.

Paris's regional public transport operators are under fire for a publicity campaign meant to encourage passengers to report sexual harassment. Featuring predators including a bear, a shark and a wolf, they fail to depict the main culprit: men.


Just in time for International Women’s Day on March 8, Paris’s public transport operator RATP, in collaboration with Île-de-France Mobilités and SNCF Transilien, this week launched a massive 15-day informational #StopHarcèlement campaign meant to diminish incidents of sexual harassment on its networks and to encourage more people to report such incidents.

As part of the campaign, thousands of huge posters featuring lone (and visibly scared) women about to be preyed upon by either a shark, a wolf or a bear started to appear in métro, commuter train, and bus stations around Paris and the wider Île-de-France region on March 5.

“Don’t ever minimise sexual harassment. Whether victim or witness, report it!,” the posters read, providing information on how to report such incidents.


But the informational campaign has quickly backfired due to the fact that none of the campaign’s three posters feature - or even mention - men, which critics say actually downplays their role in France’s high rate of sexual harassment incidents. According the National Federation of Transport Users (FNAUT), as many as nine out of 10 French women say they have been sexually harassed while using public transport.

Predators are often 'ordinary-looking' men

“The problem with using an animalistic metaphor to represent harassment is that no man will identify with it. And once again, it avoids the fact that aggressors can be any type of man, not just monsters and animals who are subject to incontrollable impulses,” Sophie Gourion, a self-described feminist, tweeted in response to the campaign.

Politiqu’elles, an organisation fighting for women’s rights, similarly slammed the campaign for avoiding the elephant in room. “Featuring men would have been an occasion to show that the culprits of such assaults are very ordinary-looking,” it wrote in a statement.

Politiqu’elles President Fatima El Ouasdi tweeted: “My feeling is this: It’s a pity to show off “wild animals” where the notion of “sexual assault bestiality” implies that the culprits cannot control themselves. I think we either have to show that the culprits = men, or be more subtle and suggest otherwise.”

What about respect for animals?

Conservationists, meanwhile, raged against the fact that the RATP and its partners had used the campaign to instill fear of wild animals in the public. “This, [at a time] when scientists repeatedly warn that our biodiversity is on the brink of collapsing,” Yves Verilhac, the director general of LPO, the French chapter of BirdLife International, blasted in an opinion piece published in French daily Libération.

“This is a campaign that will have an impact on hundreds of thousands of users of the Paris public transport network: pounding it into the brains of our lovely children where it will remain for a long time. We’ll need years of natural science education and hours of [corrective] teaching to bring them back to reason,” he wrote.

One Twitter user found at least one redeeming value in the RATP's informational effort. Going by the name of Kinoko, she posted an image of the campaign slogan and the different methods transport users can access to report incidents they experience or witness: "This is the only pertinent thing to retain in the RATP's latest campaign on the fight against sexual harassment," her tweet reads.

In addition to the various reporting measures made available to combat sexual harassment on public transport networks, including a dedicated phone number, an app and the presence of emergency phone boxes on train platforms, métro and train passengers are now being encouraged via loudspeaker announcements to report such incidents.

Another Twitter user is hopeful that these new efforts could translate into concrete results.


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