France: "Vague and confusing" sexual harassment law dropped in favour of three tier definition
Sexual Harassment finally makes it back into French law
On May 4th 2012, France dropped its existing sexual harassment law which defined the crime has "harassing someone in order to gain sexual favours". Critics said the law was too "vague and confusing" and led to wrong prosecutions with convicted perpetrators saying they were merely "flirting".
The decision to abolish the law sparked considerable anger among women's rights and feminist groups. With nothing in place to protect victims while legal teams sought a new definition, ongoing cases were immediately dropped and the victims' lawyers were told to pursue other grounds for prosecution - including attempted sexual assault.
The new law was revealed on June 13th by Minister for Justice Christine Taubira and Minister for Women's Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. They presented three new tiers of protection for victims of all gender, sexual orientation and age.
"Repeatedly imposing yourself on a person through degrading or humiliating speech or physical motions, and being detrimental towards their dignity and creating an environment that they find intimidating, hostile or offensive" represents the first level of sexual harassment and is punishable by one year imprisonment and a 15,000 euro fine.
The second more serious form of prosecutable sexual harassment is categorised as "ordering or threatening a person in order to obtain acts of a sexual nature for yourself or another person". A successful conviction of this will land the culprit in prison for two years and a hefty 30,000 euro fine.
The final definition represents a new area of protection against sexual harassment in France and relates to the "abuse of autority and power" by employers or those above a person's job title. It can be applied in addition to the first two laws and should a person be found guilty of this type, they will be fined 30,000 euros or 45,000 euros depending of the gravity of their crimes.
Higher European guidelines on dealing with sexual harassment helped to inspire this new ruling by demanding a more exhaustive definition. A stronger presence of women in French politics - 50 per cent of the new cabinet is female - and the resurrection of the Minister for Women's Rights position has also cemented the modern and extensive law.
France currently records an average of 80 sexual harassment convictions a year but the figure could be about to rise with the more comprehensive protection system now set in place for victims.