Paris Wants to Bid Adieu to Sexual Harassment on Public Transportation

After 100 percent of women surveyed in the French capital said they’d been subjected to unwelcome comments or touching on the Métro, the government decided to crack down.

Paris subway. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 16, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Inappropriate touching, intimidating behavior, catcalling, wolf whistling, or rape. In April, a shocking survey conducted by France’s High Council for Equality between Women and Men found that 100 percent of women respondents who ride public transportation in Paris reported experiencing one of those forms of sexual harassment or assault. Now the French government is making good on a promise it made to crack down on the offensive behavior and make buses and trains safer for women.

To that end, last week government officials headed to a busy Paris subway station to launch a 12-point campaign to combat harassment. Pascale Boistard, France’s minister for women’s rights, told the crowd that sexual harassment “begins with salacious remarks [or] a hand on a behind” and “is also a much more serious aggression that goes as far as rape,” reported The Independent.

So, Why Should You Care? Some men who engage in harassing behavior might think that as long as they’re not being violent, there’s nothing wrong with their actions—or that women secretly enjoy the attention. But according to the results of an international survey released in May by Cornell University and anti–street harassment group Hollaback!, 72 percent of women who responded said they had altered their transportation plans because of harassment on buses and trains.

The survey found an overwhelming number of women experience feelings of fear, anger, and anxiety because of unwanted attention from men. Sixty percent of women in the Parisian study reported feeling afraid of being attacked while riding a bus or train—something no one should have to deal with while trying to get to work or school.

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“The problem is that harassment on public transport has basically been trivialized. The figures are shocking. It exists everywhere, but it’s something young foreign women notice when they come to Paris,” Margaux Collet, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Dare Feminism, told The Local following the report’s release.

To help curb the behavior, awareness posters are being put up in subway cars, buses, and stations informing offenders that they can be thrown in jail for five years or be fined more than $82,000 for harassing another citizen.

The government is holding focus groups to help determine the stops on the Métro where riders feel most vulnerable to harassment. Officials will use that information to install additional lighting or boost the presence of law enforcement officers. Plans for expanding night bus service so that women don’t have to walk as far by themselves are also in the works. To empower bystanders who may observe women being harassed but are too afraid to speak up, a text message alert system has also been launched.

“These acts are not harmless, said Boistard. “They are punishable by law.”