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France

Weinstein scandal sparks flood of sex assault claims in France

media French Junior Minister for Gender Equality Marlène Schiappa in parliament Bertrand Guay/AFP

Like many countries, France has seen a deluge of sexual harassment allegations in the wake of revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Several of them concern politicians and other well-known figures.

In its first three days France's version of the #MeToo hashtag - #BalanceTonPorc (GrassUpYourPig) - attracted 16,000 accounts of harassment, often by bosses or other men in positions of power.

Politicians from both right and left have come under fire, including Pierre Joxe, a former Socialist minister and member of the Constitutional Council, Christophe Arend, an MP for President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party, and former presidential candidate Jean Lasalle.

To read a history of women's rights in France click here

Joxe, 82, denies the accusations by write Ariane Fornia, the daughter of former right-wing minister Eric Besson, and says he will issue a written statement during the week.

A 29-year-old former assistant of Arend, 42, has accused him of sexual assault and harassment.

An legal investigation has been opened, which he has countered with a slander claim.

The LREM parliamentary group has "taken note of the serious allegations" against him, declaring that "All forms of violence and harassement are unacceptable."

Lasalle, 62, denies even knowing his accuser, Julia Castaner, who is now head of communictions for the Communist Party and was working in parliament in 2010, the time of the alleged harassement.

At least two MPs, both Socialists, have also accused him of inappropriate behaviour.

Controversial Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan has also been accused of rape and sexual assault by Henda Ayari, a former strict Muslim who has become a secular feminist.

She described the alleged assault in a her 2016 book J'ai choisi d'être libre (I Chose to be Free) without naming him but this week named him as her assailant.

Ramadan, 55, a Swiss national and professor at the UK's Oxford University who is the grandson of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, is frequently attacked by politicians and secular activists who accuse him of trying to bring religion into politics.

He has denied the accusations and says he will sue for libel.

France has been hit by several sexism and sexual harassment scandals in recent years, among them:

  • Dominique Strauss-Kahn was forced to quit as IMF director and give up all hope of becoming a  presidential candidate after a New York chambermaid accused him of assault, unleashing a number of other accusations relating to his sexual appetite;
  • Georges Tron, a former minister in the Republicans party, is to appear in court in December on charges of rape and sexual assault;
  • Denis Baupin, former vice-president of the National Assembly and member of the Green party, was accused of harassment and assault by several female MPs but, although they accept there has been corroboration, prosecutors have had to drop the case against him because of the statute of limitations;
  • Numerous MPs whistled and catcalled when then housing miniser Cécile Duflot addressed parliament in a flower-patterned dress, having previously been criticised for attending a cabinet meeting in jeans.

The Weinstein scandal has blown up as France's gender Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa prepares a law against sexual harassment to be presented to parliament next year.

Among its measures will be a tightening of the law on sex with minors and measures against street harassment.

Schiappa has launched a public consultation on the law's content.

"The idea is that society as a whole should define what it accepts and what it doesn't," she has said.

Weinstein himself has not escaped sanction in France.

The seaside resort of Deauville has removed his name from a beach-hut that was baptised in his honour when he attended the town's annual American film festival in 1998.

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