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France proposes new law against harassment, sexual violence

FILE - In this March 7, 2012 file photo, U.S film producer and movie studio chairman Harvey Weinstein during an interview with the Associated Press in Paris, the same day as Weinstein received, Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. French President Emmanuel Macron says Sunday Oct. 15, 2017 that he wants to revoke Harvey Weinstein's Legion of Honor award after the wave of accusations of sexual harassment and abuse against the Hollywood titan. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File)
October 16, 2017 - 7:07 AM

PARIS - The French government on Monday proposed a bill focusing on sexual harassment and sexual violence against minors, aiming to eventually make harassment against women in French streets an offence that will be punished with fines.

Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said she has been setting up workshops across France to discuss the bill, which also to extend the statute of limitations for sexual assaults in cases involving minors.

"At the moment, one can't file a lawsuit for street harassment," Schiappa said on French radio RTL. "When someone breaks into your vital space, talks to you within 10 or 20 centimetres of your face, follows you for three, four, five or six streets, or ask for your telephone number about 17 times."

Schiappa said the proposed fine amount has not been set, but she said it should not be too high so offenders will be able to pay immediately when caught by police.

A parliamentary group of five lawmakers is studying the new law, which lawmakers are expected to vote on next year.

The proposal drew significant attention especially as it came in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Schiappa said she has the full support of President Emmanuel Macron, who has been urging women victims of sexual harassment to speak out.

The minister said she wanted the statute of limitations in cases of alleged rapes against minors to be extended to 30 years, from the current 20 years after the victim has turned 18.

The proposal was in part derived from recommendations by a working group overseen by TV host Flavie Flament, who last year accused photographer David Hamilton of raping her when she was 13. Flament could not file a lawsuit because the statute of limitations had expired in her case.

Another important provision of the draft aims at introducing an age under which a minor cannot consent to a sexual relationship. The proposed legal age, already introduced in many European countries, would allow prosecutors to charge offenders with rape even when violence has not been proved. Only children under five are automatically regarded as non-consenting in current French case law.

Last month, many in France were shocked by a case in which prosecutors decided to charge a 28-year-old man who had sexual intercourse with an 11-year-old girl with sexual abuse of a minor, instead of rape.

Because the man did not use threat or a weapon, prosecutors could not charge him with rape.

"The important thing is that there is no debate about consent when it comes to children," Schiappa said. "So no one can say it is their fault. Because it is never their fault."

Asked about the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the avalanche of Twitter messages posted by French women who recalled their experience of being harassed at work, Schiappa said she was impressed by the huge number of testimonies.

"It's not women who don't speak, but society which does not listen to them," she said.

Macron said on Sunday that he wants to revoke Weinstein's Legion of Honor award after the wave of accusations of sexual abuse against the Hollywood mogul. The French president said has "started the procedures" for such a removal.

Weinstein was given the award in 2012 by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy after the French film "The Artist" won multiple Oscars. Weinstein's company produced the film.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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