News & Politics

France Puts the U.S. to Shame with Its Proposed New Legislation Defending Women

France's gender equality minister wants harassers to pay up on the spot.

Marlène Schiappa, France's gender equality minister
Photo Credit: Clémence Hérout/Flickr

A new bill being considered by the French parliament makes a bold move to fight sexual harassment, hitting men where it hurts the most—in their wallets.

Marlène Schiappa, the French gender equality minister (a government position dedicated to combating sexism), told the press on Wednesday that under this law, sexual harassers caught on the street would be subject to pay fines on the spot. The fines would range from 90-750 euros ($110-$920), and could be higher for repeat offenders or severe violations.

"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.

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The proposed legislation would also extend the statute of limitations for underage victims of rape by 10 years, as well as change the age of consent to 15. The push for a consent age change follows a well-publicized case in France in which a 22-year-old man was charged with rape after having sex with an 11-year-old girl. The man was acquitted last week.

Schiappa has been clear about her intention to tackle sexual harassment since she was first appointed to Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet. “It’s a huge phenomenon in France,” Schiappa told the Guardian. “It’s that moment when a man is walking behind a woman, talking to her, and the woman can do nothing, because she’s alone. She doesn’t scream for help, because she thinks, ‘It’s not that bad, I’ll walk, I’ll escape.’ Men feel it’s acceptable: they’re being ‘the French lover.’"

“France is paradoxical,” Schiappa added. “We are the country of Simone de Beauvoir, of feminist theory and philosophy. But we are also a Latin country with entrenched stereotypes.”

The U.S. could stand to learn a lot from France’s tough proposal to stem the tide of sexual harassment. Nearly 80 percent of American women say they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, a Vox poll demonstrates. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network estimates that every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. 

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.