Should we make catcalling illegal?
via AP

Should we make catcalling illegal?

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French lawmakers passed legislation making catcalling and street harassment illegal, punishable by fines up to 750 euros—an estimated $870. The new law includes provisions that increase the age of consent to 15, extends the amount of time victims have to report sexual assault, and increases the penalty for "upskirt" photographs. French lawmakers hope the new law will help protect citizens from harassment. Opponents worry they could be confusing or contribute to over-policing. Should the U.S. create similar laws?

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Marie Laguerre, a 22-year-old architecture student, was walking past a sidewalk cafe when a man began making lewd noises at her. Laguerre told the him to "shut up" and continued walking. The man took an ashtray from a nearby table and threw it at Laguerre and, in front of stunned diners, walked up to her and punched her in the head. Laguerre requested security footage of the encounter and released it on Facebook, where it immediately went viral. Laguerre created a website called "Nous Toutes Harcelement"—"We Are All Harassed"—to collect similar stories from other women.

France's secretary for gender equality, Marlène Schiappa, used Laguerre's story to lobby for the new legislation, which passed the Senate without a single no vote. 

Some argue that defining harassment is overly subjective and will make enforcing the law difficult. The staff of the Globe and Mail notes, in an otherwise supporting editorial:

Defining what counts as sexual harassment in public is tricky, too. Hurling sexist epithets at passing women or describing sex acts to them are obvious cases. On the other hand, Ms. Schiappa has said she doesn’t think calling a woman “cute” should count. Well, couldn’t that be intimidating, at night, in a darkened alley? And who will decide?

In an interview with Time, Schiappa defends the legislation against criticism from both the left and right of the political spectrum.

But even some on the left have slammed the fines as unfair, since they penalize those without 90 euros in their bank account. Schiappa bristles at that criticism. “It’s the same principle as paying a fine for not having a train ticket or dropping cigarettes in the street. I don’t understand why fighting against sexism inspires so much debate, when fines for other bad behavior do not.”
Others say the fines could backfire, alienating the very men who Schiappa wants to reach. But, she points out: “When the vast majority of men want to seduce a woman, they do not go into the street, find a woman, call her a slut and ask her for her number 45 times and grab her ass.” Most men “have nothing to fear from this law,” she says.

However, even those who agree that something should be done to combat harassment, say there are problems with laws like this. Writer Christina Cauterucci argues in Slate, that not only will laws like this not stop street harassment in France or in the U.S., they could aggravate issues like over-policing.

[I]n less severe cases, establishing a clear line between harassment and an unwanted but appropriate sexual advance won’t necessarily be any easier when the police get involved. Law enforcement officials only occasionally bring clarity to murky situations, but they always bring their own biases. In France, as in the U.S., police forces have brutalized and killed black men with impunity, making communities of color wary of giving officers of the law more reasons to make arrests. In all likelihood, police officers and prosecutors will disproportionately enforce any street-harassment law against men of color, as they do with every other civil and criminal offense. And they could easily use such a law as pretext for stepping up surveillance and policing of already-marginalized communities.
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