France Proposes Legislation Against Catcalling

A woman from the French government wants to pass a law that would give men fines for overly flirtatious behavior in public, possibly including catcalling or wolf-whistling.

The idea was proposed by Marlene Schiappa, age 34, who is the nation's Junior Minister for Gender Equality. She says that police would have the power to give men on the spot fines for things like catcalling or other lecherous behavior in the streets, on the argument that this constitutes a form of sexual harassment.

"The idea is that society as a whole redefines what is acceptable or not," she said in an interview with the newspaper La Croix.

The law will not be on the ballot until next year, and until then it will be given to a team of five Parliament members from different parties. They will try to define its parameters by consulting with police and magistrates to figure out what kind of behavior could realistically fall within the police's ability to enforce.

Ms. Schiappa's ideas are naturally controversial, however. The obvious question, which those members of Parliament will need to work out, is how one defines the difference between harassment and normal, innocent flirtation.

"We know very well at what point we start feeling intimidated, unsafe or harassed in the street," Schiappa said. She gives as a hypothetical example the case of a man who follows a woman for several blocks and repeatedly asks for her phone number.

In an interview with the radio station RTL, she added that this was part of the problem: currently, the law does have any definition of street harassment.

Her proposed legislation includes other ideas to combat sexual abuse of women. For example, she wants to strengthen the laws against sex with minors, and to increase the statute of limitations that women have to lodge complaints about sexual abuse that occurred when they were children. Currently they must report it within 20 years of turning 18; Schiappa favors an increase to 30 years.

Sexual harassment and abuse has been a hot topic in France since the scandal about American movie producer Harvey Weinstein came into the public consciousness. In particular, two hashtags have become popular on social media: #MeToo, which encourages the victims of such incidents to speak out about their experiences, and #BalanceTonPorc, French for "expose the pig," where women have been issuing accusations against those allegedly responsible for such incidents.

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