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#BalanceTonMetro: New hashtag condemns sexual harassment on French transport

Jacques Demarthon , AFP | Women hold a banner reading 'still feminist' with the Eiffel Tower in the background, Paris, on January 21, 2018.

Launched on April 24, the #BalanceTonMetro hashtag – in the tradition of #MeToo – aims to give voice to women who are sexually persecuted on public transport and to provide a practical service by alerting RATP to the abuse women are suffering.

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It all began on April 22, 2019, when Anaïs Leleux recounted on Twitter that she had been followed and then physically harassed by a man, first on an escalator and then at her seat on a Métro platform in Paris. She managed to run away.

Leleux decided not to call the RATP emergency number because, she said, “this is not a dedicated line. You can call it for the theft of your purse or whatever. On the other end of the line, there are no agents trained specifically to deal with these issues”.

She had previously experienced similar episodes of sexual intimidation, so she was determined to report this incident. She finally found an RATP agent and gave him a detailed report. But he apparently said he hears the same story every day and the report would not be of much use.

Leleux then decided to contact RATP customer service directly on Twitter. A community manager replied that she should file a complaint and added that “if no complaint is filed, the video surveillance images cannot be examined and this situation is likely to recur”.

Leleux was quick to tweet her response: “Guilt of the victims episode 47799900. If this situation is repeated, it is because this guy is a predator and RATP is incompetent. Certainly not because of me.”

Leleux is a member of NousToutes, a community fighting against gender-based and sexual violence. With fellow members, she staged a protest on April 24 starting at the Paris Métro station Filles-du-Calvaire, suitably chosen because of its name being connected to women’s suffering. They were equipped with posters that updated the names of certain Métro stations. Port-Royal became Porc-Royal. Père-Lachaise was transformed into Perverts-Lachaise. They also launched the hashtag #BalanceTonMetro – a reference to the French version of #MeToo, which is known as #BalanceTonPorc (#DenounceYourPig). And then the often harrowing testimonies began to pour in.

'I was 12 years old'

One internet user recounted how she was sexually abused for the first time in a tram in Lille. “While I had my school bag on my lap, a man sitting next to me wearing a suit and tie slipped his hand underneath my bag to caress my thigh. I was 12 years old.”

This is an experience that echoes that of another user who explained that she received her “first kiss on the mouth” at the age of 14 from an “old man who was behaving disgustingly in a crowded train”.

Twitter users also questioned RATP responses when they reported assaults. One told of how she was left knowing that her assailant was regularly on the same train but that the RATP would do nothing about it: “Yesterday, I reported a man’s verbal assault to an agent. I was able to take a picture of him, so I could show his face when I wanted to describe him. Answer: We know him, your stop is his stop too. But there’s nothing we can do about it. Reassuring!”

A 2017 survey conducted by the Institut d’aménagement et d’urbanisme, the regional agency governing all elements of urban life, revealed that one in two women was afraid on public transport. And it turns out they have good reason. In the Île-de-France region (which the area of Paris and greater Paris), 100% of female public transport users report having been victims of gender-based harassment or sexual assault at least once in their lives, according to consultations conducted in 2015 by the French High Council for Equality.

'RATP must guarantee my safety'

The NousToutes group does not intend to stop with the Twitter campaign. “As a carrier, RATP must guarantee my safety, they have an obligation to achieve results. There is this contract between us from the moment I buy my ticket,” explains Leleux, based on France’s Napoleonic civil code. She says that her lawyer is currently working on a civil summons for RATP that will be given to the company by a bailiff.

RATP said it intended to defend the lawsuit, telling FranceInfo: “It is not true to say that we are not doing anything. RATP is strongly committed to providing ideal conditions for good travel.

“We have more than 50,000 functional cameras, 5,300 agents in stations, 1,000 security agents on the network. And all of these agents are trained in how to care for victims of sexual harassment as part of a module organised by Miprof (a government mission for the protection of women victims of violence and the fight against people trafficking).”

The RATP spokesman cited previous initiatives to combat sexual harassment, including an awareness campaign launched in 2015, and another joint communication campaign between the île-de-France region, RATP and SNCF, and the implementation of recent alert systems (by calling 3117 or by texting 31177).

In addition, RATP has launched several communication campaigns on harassment in recent years. “But they need to be more visible and more effective than the last one in 2018, when the posters featured animals as abusers,” says Leleux. “I have never been attacked by a bear, only by men.”

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