The viral ‘Paris harasser’ video has sparked outrage across the world. Now, France is outlawing catcalling.
Earlier this week, a video of a street harasser hitting 22-year-old Marie Laguerre outside a café in Paris went viral. If the headlines that followed the video are to be believed, we were all in a state of “shock” after watching it. But women weren’t shocked, they were stunned – stunned that the event was actually caught in action.
Like pretty much everywhere else in the world, street harassment is a problem in Paris. In recent months the country has been in the process of trying to introduce legislation to stop it by imposing on-the-spot fines – between £80-670 – for anyone seen harassing a woman on the street.
Now, thanks to the video, the bill has passed through French parliament and into law.
“Harassment in the street has previously not been punished,” Marlène Schiappa, gender equality minister and one of the architects of the new law, told Europe 1 radio on Thursday 2 August. “What’s key is … that the laws of the French republic forbid insulting, intimidating, threatening, and following women in public spaces.”
It’s great news for the women of France, but the issue is still prevalent in the UK. In 2014, Mary Brandon was hit in the face by a man at Notting Hill Carnival, after she rejected him when he tried to grope her. In 2016, Pagan-Lilley Motlagh-Phillips was run over by two men on a moped in London after she rejected their catcalls.
“It’s positive that France are showing that they take this issue very seriously,” Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, tells Stylist.co.uk. “Obviously the on-the-spot fines for street harassment were already in the pipeline before this incident happened.
“It is interesting to compare it to the UK. Nottinghamshire Police carried out a successful pilot project defining misogyny as a hate crime. In spite of the really excellent results, it hasn’t been rolled out nationwide - despite campaigners urging for that to be done. I think, perhaps, we’re still not taking [street harassment] as seriously as we should in the UK.
Bates continued: “I think education in schools about harassment, abuse and consent would be another really positive way to tackle it.”
Like most women, Bates was not at all shocked by the viral video of Laguerre.
“That really struck me because I think the majority of women wouldn’t have been shocked by it,” she says. “I think a huge number of women have experienced that moment when [street harassment] becomes violent. It’s interesting that this is something that is still so hidden; people are unware of it happening to women on a regular basis.”
But rest assured, change is coming. In recent weeks we’ve seen videos of other women being harassed, too. First there was the video of a waitress in Georgia who tackled a male customer to the ground after he groped her on his way out of the restaurant. Then a video surfaced of a man punching a woman in the face, knocking her out cold, outside a nightclub in Essex after she confronted him. These were followed by the video of Laguerre.
So the visual proof of catcalling being a major issue is mounting, as the evidence continues to reach our screens. And as awareness of the issue grows, so too should our collective desire to tackle it.