Reports of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in France rose 25 percent in October compared to the same month a year ago, a spokesman for the French interior ministry told ABC News.
In the wake of the #MeToo hashtag started by actress Alyssa Milano in the United States, French women invented a hashtag of their own to speak up about sexual harassment.
#Balancetonporc, which translates to “Expose your pig,” went viral as thousands of French women posted stories of inappropriate sexual behaviors and abuse. According to the French research institute Odoxa, 335,300 tweets with the hashtag #balancetonporc were posted in just five days. Seventeen thousand of them were testimonies of sexual aggression and harassment.
“In recent years in France, we have seen female journalists and politicians speaking up about sexual abuse,” Alice Debauche, an associate professor of sociology at Strasbourg University who specializes in violence against women, told ABC News. “But what we are seeing is unprecedented.”
The fact that famous actresses kicked off the Weinstein scandal has resonated in France, Debauche said.
“Women feel like they know these actresses by watching their movies and seeing them on the cover of magazines. There is sentiment of proximity,” she said. “Women identify themselves to actresses much more than to politicians, intellectuals or anonymous females.”
Fear switching sides
The recent increase in reports of sexual assault and harassment show that French women are trying to change cultural norms.
“Filing a complaint is always an obstacle for victims,” Debauche said. “It shows that they are feeling empowered to come forward after the campaigns on social media.”
According to Claire Ludwig, a member of the French feminist organization “Stop Street Harassment,” there is definitely a connection between the rise in reports and the numerous sexual misconduct stories of the past few weeks.
“This demonstrates that we are on the right path,” Ludwig said. “Fear is switching from the victim’s side to the aggressor’s.”
In a study published last year, the French Institute for Demographic Studies said an estimated 62,000 women in France are victims of at least one rape or attempted rape each year. Additionally, the study said that around 580,000 women are victims of sexual violence every year in France.
“Authorities need to extend this ongoing cultural debate through information, prevention and education campaigns," Debauche said. “Otherwise it might be short-lived.”
Catcallers to be fined?
The massive wave of sexual harassment and assault stories in France is having political and legal repercussions, too.
The ongoing debate in France amid the Weinstein scandal might also lead to changes in the law.
Marlène Schiappa, France’s minister for gender equality, wants to fine men for catcalling women in public.
A task force of legal professionals, policemen and politicians are working to define street harassment. The proposed law is expected to be presented next year.
“The creation of a legal framework to denounce street harassment is a victory for us,” Ludwig said. But she believes that the new law will be very hard to enforce. “Sexual harassers will have to be caught 'in the act' by police officers in order to be fined,” she said. “Is the government planning to put a police officer behind every woman on the streets of France?”
Schiappa admitted in a newspaper interview that “we know that policemen won’t be able to fine every acts of street harassment.”
“Street harassment is a cultural fight,” Schiappa said. “This law will open a public debate and change attitudes.”
The question of France's child sex laws is also on the table, after two recent separate controversial cases where men were acquitted of raping two 11-year-old girls because authorities could not prove coercion.
A minimum age of sexual consent does not currently exist in France, and the French government is now drafting a bill to say that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.
France's justice minister received criticism after suggesting in a radio interview Monday that 13 could be the age of consent.
Establishing a legal age of consent is part of pending bill that will be presented next year to address sexual violence and harassment in France.