France Enacts Broader Law against Sexual Harassment

Article excerpt

The French Parliament adopted a new sexual harassment law on Tuesday, replacing a 10-year-old law that a constitutional court had voided.

The French Parliament adopted a far-reaching sexual harassment law on Tuesday, more than two months after a top court threw out the previous one on the ground that it was vague and insufficient.

Under the new bill, which unanimously passed the National Assembly last week, sexual harassment will be considered a criminal offense, punishable by two years in prison and a fine of EUR 30,000, or about $37,000. The Senate passed a similar version of the bill.

The new law will replace one that had been on the books for 10 years before it was thrown out in May by the Constitutional Court. Its ruling came after a deputy mayor who had been convicted of harassing three employees complained that the law was too vague. Several cases of sexual harassment have been frozen or dismissed since May, leaving what Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France's minister for women's rights, called "a dangerous void."

Under the old law, which was modified in 2002, the notion of sexual harassment was restricted to "obtaining favors of a sexual nature" and was punishable by a year in prison and a fine equivalent to about $18,500. The new law defines harassment as "imposing on someone, in a repeated way, words or actions that have a sexual connotation" and either "affecting the person's dignity because of their degrading or humiliating nature" or putting him or her in an "intimidating, hostile or offensive situation."

The law will also include behavior aimed at obtaining a sexual act inside and outside the workplace. According to a preliminary report issued by the National Assembly last month, such behavior can include blackmail, sexual jokes, neck massages, leaving a pornographic magazine on a person's desk or looking at someone up and down. …