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France Proposes Fines For Catcalling


The French parliament is set to debate a new law this month that would penalize sexual violence. Under one provision, unwanted catcalls in the street could soon draw a more-than-$100, on-the-spot fine. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has more.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The #MeToo movement has led to a lot of soul searching in France, but some are wondering if things might have gone too far. Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux was forced to defend the measure in an interview with skeptical news radio host Jean-Jacques Bourdin.


JEAN-JACQUES BOURDIN: (Speaking French).

BENJAMIN GRIVEAUX: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "This kind of measure doesn't work anywhere," said Bourdin, "not in Portugal, Finland or Belgium, where they're trying it."


GRIVEAUX: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I'm aware that it won't be easy," said Griveaux, "but 89 percent of women in the Paris region who take public transportation say they've been physically or verbally harassed. We have to put a stop to this. It's a cultural battle." Griveaux said, "when you begin cracking down on certain behaviors and people see they're no longer acceptable, mentalities can change." He said France would try to learn from what's worked and what hasn't in other European countries. One of the main proponents of the measure is Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa. NPR interviewed the 34-year-old outspoken member of Macron's government last summer. Schiappa recalled how she and her sister had problems just walking down the street when she was growing up.

MARLENE SCHIAPPA: We had to build strategies to avoid the band of boys to just go where we wanted to go. And just being in the streets for a girl, it's complicated when you're a teenager in France.

BEARDSLEY: In Belgium this week, a man who verbally abused a female police officer became the first person convicted under a law that criminalizes sexism in a public place. The Belgian prosecutor said it was a good case to test the law because there were many witnesses to his sexist tirade.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Imitating whipping sounds).

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Imitating kissing sounds).

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: The Belgian law was put in place after calls for action following a 2014 documentary filmed with a hidden camera. "Femme De La Rue" outraged Belgians by exposing the intimidation and abuse women face on the streets of Brussels. On the streets of Paris, 31-year-old Laurie Fanon (ph) says if fining verbal harassment could be enforced, it would definitely improve her life. We penalize other uncivil behavior, she says, so why not?

LAURIE FANON: (Through interpreter) Being harassed is an unbearable part of my daily life. I wear my headphones and try to ignore it. And often, I'm scared to say anything back because they might become aggressive.

BEARDSLEY: The law will also set a minimum age for sexual consent, which France currently lacks. President Emmanuel Macron has made tackling sexism and predatory behavior a core priority. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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