France will fine catcallers $870 — should the U.S. do the same?

Korin Miller
Photo: Getty Images

Sexual harassment on the street is unfortunately something that most women deal with regularly. Now, a new in law in France is making it a crime — and an expensive one, at that.

The new law outlaws sexual harassment on the streets, including catcalling, with a fine of 750 euros (currently worth about $870) that can be imposed on the spot, Reuters reports.

French lawmakers approved the legislation just days after a 22-year-old woman named Marie Laguerre was attacked in Paris after she responded to a man who made a wolf whistle at her. In the Guardian’s account, the man “made dirty noises, comments and whistled,” and after she told the man to “shut up,” he punched her.

Some critics have said that the law will effectively kill the French reputation for romance, but Marlene Schiappa, the country’s gender equality minister and architect of the new legislation, told Europe 1 radio that isn’t the case. “What’s key is … that the laws of the French republic forbid insulting, intimidating, threatening and following women in public spaces,” she said.

The new law is getting positive feedback, including from Holly Kearl, founder of Stop Street Harassment. However, she tells Yahoo Lifestyle, the law would be even better if it also focused on educating the public about why street harassment isn’t OK.

There is no comparable law in the U.S., where laws on harassment vary by state, Kearl says. “Every state has a law against indecent exposure and groping, and many have laws against upskirt photos,” she says. “But there is no national standard, so you have to go piecemeal depending on what action was taken against you.”

Recently, the city council in Washington, D.C., passed legislation that defines street harassment and requires the collection of data on street harassment, training for government employees to be able to spot and stop harassment, and the creation of educational campaigns on street harassment. Kearl applauds this measure. “It’s pretty groundbreaking for taking that angle,” she says.

Ultimately, the U.S. needs a national standard when it comes to street harassment that stipulates what is and isn’t OK, along with a national education program to teach people why this behavior isn’t acceptable, Kearl says.

And she says the U.S. can learn a thing or two from France’s new law. “Street harassment should be taken seriously,” she says. “It’s a problem across the country.”

Are you uncertain about the harassment laws in your state? Stop Street Harassment has a state-by-state guide to help get you up to speed.

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