French police are investigating the assault of a 23-year-old Strasbourg student who was insulted and punched in the face because she was wearing a skirt, with the incident sparking a broader debate about the daily physical and sexual harassment many women face in Frnce.
The victim said she walked by three men in their twenties in the city center when one of them said to the other two, “Look at this whore in the skirt.” When she voiced her indignation at the comment, one of the men replied, “Shut up bitch and look down.” Then, the perpetrator punched her in the face with a closed fist and all three then fled the scene.
She posted a video sharing her injuries and providing an account of what occurred.
— France Bleu Elsass (@bleuelsass) September 21, 2020
Due to high-profile media attention the attacked received, the minister associate in the French Ministry of the Interior, Marlène Schiappa, has announced that Strasbourg police officers will be better trained in handling cases of harassment. By next year, social workers will be instructed to improve the dialogue between victims of sexual violence and government officials, Schiappa told the radio station France Bleu.
Around 15 witnesses observed the incident but did not aid the victim either during or after the crime.
The victim explained that she grew up in the city and “never felt such an unhealthy climate for women”.
“It’s really violent, dirty, perverse,” described the victim of the attack. “It’s always remarks behind the back. It’s always very cowardly. That’s what I have noticed this summer, it’s the summer of cowards,” said the student.
However, sexual harassment on the streets has become an almost everyday nuisance.
Foreigners responsible for the increase in sexual violence?
Despite a police search for the attackers, no description has been released of the three men, however, in the past, migrants have fingered for the increase in street harassment of women across France. According to a Guardian report from 2017, woman in the predominately migrant neighborhood of La Chapelle-Pajol in Paris complained it had become a “no-go zone” for women, but other activist groups claimed that such criticism amounted to “racism”.
One of the most respected news publications in France, Le Parisien, featured an article from a female journalist about La Chapelle-Pajol, in which it claimed:
These are several hundred square meters of asphalt here abandoned only to men, and where women no longer have the right to live. Cafés, bars and restaurants are prohibited to them. Like the sidewalks, the metro station and the squares. For more than a year, the Chapelle-Pajol district, in Paris (10th-18th century), has completely changed its face. Now, groups of dozens of single men, street vendors, drug dealers, migrants, and smugglers hold the streets, all harassing women.
The article indicates that young girls can no longer go out alone, especially if they wear a skirt or pants that are too tight. Besides the verbal abuse, one woman in the article described having a lit cigarette thrown in her hair.
French women living in the neighborhood launched a petition and even staged a demonstration against the daily harassment, but fear still pervades the area.
“We all have lived through unbearable treatment,” stated Nathalie, 50, who said she lived 30 years in the neighborhood. She stated that there is an increasingly hostile climate in the last months.
“These are incessant insults. The atmosphere is scary to the point of having to modify the way we dress. Some have even given up on leaving their homes.” She also pointed to the case of an 80-year-old woman who was sexually assaulted inside the doorway of her building and who now refuses to leave her house.
Women in France have taken to filming this street harassment on hidden cameras, with entire Instagram accounts dedicated to the topic.
In a recent example, a woman released video of a man following and harassing her. When she tried to make him go away, he asked her if she was “racist” because she was not accepting his advances.
Paris : Un homme harcèle une femme dans la rue, elle refuse les multiples avances, résultat ? Il l'insulte de raciste.
Ce compte est actif depuis plus 1 mois, il n'y a pas UN SEUL BLANC. Elle a même du faire des demandes de vidéo d'harceleur blanc en story. On en est là… ? pic.twitter.com/uaAYY9DVT5
— Jeanne de la Coquillette (@SweetVicious__) September 23, 2020
France has the largest Muslim population of any Western country, with many migrants from North Africa, which is known for its hostility to women. In fact, the region, which compromises Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Sudan and Tunisia, and Egypt, is considered one of worst regions in the world for women in terms of sexual discrimination, gender equality, and sexual harassment.
Now, many fear that with France’s radically changing demographics, which features a rapidly growing Muslim population, many of which come from North Africa, has fueled sexual harassment and violence against women.
An article from the BBC reported that is difficult for women in Morocco to walk the streets “unmolested” and one woman even described that the word “whore” is a constant refrain for her when she walks the streets.
“In Morocco, everything you do, you’re a whore,” says Ghizlane Ahblain, a hotel worker. “If you wear lipstick, you’re a whore. If you wear a headscarf, you’re a whore.”
“More people should denounce this behaviour,” she says. “Men in my country don’t know when to stop.”
Strasbourg’s mayor denies the rise in attacks
Strasbourg’s mayor Jeanne Barseghian disagreed that Strasbourg is unsafe for women, claiming that harassment does not occur more than other cities. In the past two years, around 1,800 warnings have been issued across France, however, Barseghian admitted that the number of unreported cases could be much higher.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal described the act as “completely unacceptable”, according to the DPA news agency. In France, everyone should be able to take to the streets as they please without fear of being “insulted, threatened or beaten”, the government spokesperson stated.
The skirt was just as little the reason for the attack as the student herself, Schiappa emphasized to the broadcaster BFMTV.
“Every woman knows what it’s about: the limit is consent,” he said.