PARIS (AP) — Prominent French women challenged President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday to organize an “attack plan” against sexual violence and harassment, saying in a blunt verdict on the recent revelations of alleged past abuses by powerful men: “Our society mistreats women.”
About 100 performers, filmmakers, writers and others who say they have suffered harassment or abuse demanded action in an open letter to Macron and an online petition carried in the Journal du dimanche newspaper.
“Mr. President, we are facing a grave crisis. Are you on our side?” they wrote.
Their manifesto comes amid an upsurge in sexual misconduct allegations involving well-known men in several Western countries. In France, they include members of the far-right National Front party, a competitive sailor and a state television executive.
Macron recently ordered France’s Legion of Honor to revoke Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s award over sexual violence allegations against him. He urged women to speak out about abuse.
Macron’s government also is working on a bill that could toughen rules on sexual assault and, unusually, outlaw harassment against women in the streets.
The petition published Sunday urges more aggressive actions. Signatories want the government to require companies to train staff on preventing sexual harassment, double subsidies for abuse hotlines and victim help centers, and introduce a mandatory non-violence training program in all middle schools.
They also want guarantees that women who report harassment won’t risk losing their jobs.
“Like so many others, we often had to face the denial of people around us, the lack of being taken seriously by the authorities, the effort by our society to make us believe that it wasn’t so bad, or that we must have done something to deserve it,” the women wrote, denouncing an “intolerable collective denial.”
Even before the #metoo campaign unleashed online stories of harassment and abuse in the U.S., French women had their own version, #balancetonporc or “squeal on your pig,” that drew mass attention and accusations across layers of society.
A weekend report in Le Monde said far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her party’s leadership downplayed allegations of harassment by two National Front members. Le Pen called the report “scandalous” and said Sunday on France-3 television that “it was not about harassment….It was about two couples who separated, in separations that went badly.”
Meanwhile, the start of the Transat Jacques-Vabre sailing race Sunday from Le Havre was clouded by a team’s last-minute withdrawal because one of its skippers was in custody on reported accusations of sexual assault.
The killing of a woman jogger whose incinerated body was found last week in eastern France also prompted an outpouring of concern, though the circumstances of her death remain unclear.
Thousands of people marched through 29-year-old Alexia Daval’s hometown Sunday, while hundreds of people held memorial runs in Paris and other cities around France in her honor and to protest violence against women in general. •