France has voted to approve a new law that imposes immediate fines for gender-based sexual harassment in public places. The bill, which has been in the works for months, was passed days after a video went viral showing a young woman being physically assaulted by her catcaller outside a Paris cafe.
According to the Washington Post, perpetrators could pay up $105 to $875, depending on the severity of the crime. The bill, which outlaws “annoying, following and threatening” a woman as well as making sexist comments, will be adopted next week with fines coming into effect in the fall.
22-year-old Marie Laguerre was walking home from work one evening last month in northeast Paris when a man “made dirty noises, comments and whistled” at her as they passed. Laguerre responded “Ta gueule!”, meaning “shut up!”
At this point, Laguerre says the man threw an ashtray at her, barely missing her, and then slapped her across the face. In the video, patrons of the cafe can be seen jumping up as soon as the man assaults Laguerre, but the attacker ultimately walks away unpunished.
The incident was captured by the cafe’s CCTV, who shared it with Laguerre, who in turn posted it to social media.
“Last night, as I was coming back home in Paris, I walked past a man who sexually/verbally harassed me,” Laguerre wrote underneath the YouTube video of the incident.
“He wasn’t the first one and I can’t accept being humiliated like that, so I replied ‘shut up.’ He then threw an ashtray at me, before rushing back to punch me, in the middle of the street, in front of dozens of people.”
“This is an unacceptable behaviour. It happens everyday, everywhere and I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have a similar story.
“I am sick of feeling unsafe walking in the street. Things need to change, and they need to change now.”
The video, which was watched by millions around the world, caused an outrage in France and motivated its politicians to take a stand against public sexual harassment.
Equalities minister Marlène Schiappa stood in solidarity with Laguerre and spearheaded the new anti–sexual harassment law.
“The political response must be strong and it is, because for the first time in France we will fine those responsible for street harassment,” Schiappa said, according to The Guardian.
Well-intentioned as it might be, Laguerre is not convinced the bill will be enough to put an end to predatory behavior on the streets of France. “The law sends a message, but for me it’s not enough,” she told The Associated Press, calling it “a joke.”
“I don’t think it’s realistic because it means having police officers on every street,” she added, and several lawmakers agreed with her. “A number of left-wing politicians apparently abstained from voting in protest of what they saw as a bill that didn’t go quite far enough,” wrote the AP.
Laguerre’s attacker has yet to be identified.