In an unprecedented move, France has voted to completely criminalise street harassment, the decision made swiftly following the public outcry after a young woman was attacked by a man who harassed her on the streets.
A 22-year-old student named Marie Laguerre was on her way home one evening when she was harassed on the street by a stranger and then was physically harmed by him after she defended herself according to The Local France.
Marie shared a video of the story along with a post of what happened on Facebook which took place outside a cafe on Rue Burnouf, near Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the north east of the city.
The video has since gone viral and shows Marie being hit in the face when she stood up to the man who catcalled her.
The key here, she said is to highlight and eradicate behaviours that include “threats, intimidation and following women in public.”
Naturally some critics have weighed in on this and called it an “end to French romance,” but no one is calling for the end of that – men just need to know how to distinguish between flirting and harassment, because the one is definitely not the same as the other.
Marie said in her Facebook post that the man "made dirty noises, comments and whistled" at her as she walked past him. But she didn’t ignore it or keep quiet like many of us have so many times, she responded by saying "Ta gueule!" (which translates to "shut up" in English).
As seen in the video, both continued on their way and it seemed to be the end of the interaction, until the man grabbed an ashtray off the table at the café and threw it at Marie.
Marie then insults him and he approaches her again.
"I felt hatred, I refused to be demeaned, it was humiliating," she said in her Facebook post. "I refused to look down, I looked him right in the eyes, I was not going to apologise."
The man then slaps Marie in the face so hard that she loses her footing and falls into the fence of the café.
The attack left her with swollen brow cheek bones she said in the post. "I was in pain, but it happened in a few seconds so I did not realise it right away," says Marie.
The video was given to her by the manager of the café, whom she praised for doing so according to the Telegraph, and shows how some patrons of the café were astonished and upset by the interaction. Some of the customers get up to confront the attacker and one man even brandished a chair in his direction.
Some commenters on the video criticised how the patrons of the café responded to the situation, but Marie edited her post, reports Metro UK, and added a line saying: "To all those who say that the witnesses did not react well enough: everything happened very quickly and they did not have time to understand the situation. The attacker was dangerous. After the attack, I came back and the witnesses were very supportive, please don't lynch them."
According to the Evening Standard, Marie first went home and then came back to the cafe to get witness statements, the video from the manager and she then laid a complaint with the police.
Marie has reportedly been suffering from headaches according to her Facebook post and neck pain since the incident took place and says she no longer feels comfortable in her own neighbourhood. "I feel my adrenaline and stress levels rise when I'm in the street," she said. "The problem is the systematic insecurity that women suffer as a result of men," she added. "Some men think that the street belongs to them and that we have no business being there."
The Parisian public prosecutor told Le Parisien that they have opened an inquiry into “violence” and “sexual harassment” against the attacker, but so far he has not been found.
According to the BBC, this video going viral coincides with a government decision to impose on-the-spot fines for street harassment with the first fines being handed out by the French autumn. The offenders will have to pay between 90 Euros (R1 386) and 750 Euros (R11 548) according to a set of measures that was supported by French MPs in May and is set to complete its journey through parliament this week.
"This is not the only incident. Harassment is every day. To those men who think anything goes in the street, who allow themselves to humiliate us and who cannot stand being offended, it is unacceptable. It is time for this kind of behavior to STOP. #AllWomenTogether," says Marie at the end of her Facebook post.
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