This story was originally published on December 28, 2015 at 8:30 a.m.
Catcalling. Whistling. Being followed. Inappropriate touching. And sometimes, sexual violence and rape. These are all types of street harassment that women in Paris universally reported experiencing on public transport.
High school student Zoe Coutard said she was 14 when the harassment began.
"Often, men think that going up to a woman and saying, 'You’re beautiful,' is always a compliment. But the truth women are told from a young age is that we’re in danger of being harmed in some way. So if someone comes up to me in the street and says, 'You're sexy,' it’s not a compliment, it's scary. On top of that, I never know how someone is going to react if I say no," Coutard told Refinery29.
Earlier this year, the French government's High Council for Equality Between Men and Women released a report revealing that a staggering 100% of women surveyed in the Paris region said they had experienced harassment on public transit. And while sexual harassment in France — and other parts of the world — is a serious issue, many activists believe governments don’t treat it with the urgency and gravity it deserves.
But things in Paris are moving in a positive direction. In October, the Parisian transport provider RATP unveiled a 12-point awareness campaign to combat street harassment. RATP teamed up with the association STOP Harcèlement de Rue (Stop Street Harassment) and other advocacy organizations to create the campaign, which provides travelers with emergency numbers to report sexual harassment and reminds would-be harassers of the harsh punishments: up to 75,000 Euros and five years in jail.
And since March 2014, STOP Harcèlement de Rue has hosted a number of actions to fight against street harassment, including awareness campaigns, rallies, school interventions, and more. The group aims to educate women about the types of harassment that are out there and encourages bystanders to intervene to support victims.
Refinery29 recently accompanied the group on one of its school interventions and spoke to young Parisians about their own experiences with street harassment and what they think needs to be done in order to put an end to it, once and for all.
Photo caption: Zoe Coutard, 17, first started experiencing harassment three years ago. "We need to educate people better about harassment," she told Refinery29.