French Senate unanimously agrees new sexual harassment law
A new law on sexual harassment was unanimously agreed by French Senators on Thursday. The previous law was scrapped by the Constitutional Council for being too vague just before May's presidential election. On Wednesday, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira proposed a new definition of the offence to the Senate.
The new wording defines harassment as “subjecting a person, through repeated acts, words or acts with a sexual connotation, which either infringe a person’s dignity either through degradation or humiliation, or create intimidating, hostile or offensive situation”.
Previsions were also made for cases of “sexual blackmail”, such as in situations of hiring, promotion or housing, defined as "to use orders, threats, constraints or any form of serious pressure, even if not repeatedly, with the real or apparent aim of obtaining any form of a sexual act for the offender's benefit or for another person's”.
Either form of sexual harassment can be punished by a fine of 30,000 euros and two years in prison. The fine can go up to 45,000 euros and three years in prison in extreme circumstances such as when the victim is a minor or judged to be vulnerable.
Some feminists along with former sports minister Chantal Jouanno have expressed concern that the new definition of sexual blackmail may result in weaker penalties for cases of rape or sexual assault.
But sexual harassment cases will involve "no touching, no physical contact”, said Socialist Senator Alain Anziani, who proposed the bill.
The new law will be sent for approval by the National Assembly on 24 July.
The Constitutional Council's ruling left France without a law on sexual harassment while France was chosing its new president and both the eventual winner François Hollande and incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy promised to introduce a new law rapidly.
Hollande's Socialists made the new law a top priority and, for once, the has been unity across party lines in rushing the bill thorugh parliament.
The Senate also banned discrimination against transgender people by an amendment to the penal code.