Two European countries are pushing ahead or have already passed laws that give police officers more leeway to punish harassers immediately.
- Finland introduced on-the-spot fines last year.
- France is considering passing similar legislation next year, although the level of penalties there is still unclear. The fines would be one component of a broader crackdown on sexual violence and harassment, proposed by the country’s equality minister, Marlène Schiappa.
However, this new option for victims of sexual harassment has people wondering:
Schiappa’s proposals had already been discussed for weeks but gained new momentum after sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein resulted in the global #MeToo social media campaign over the weekend. Victims of sexual harassment from across the globe shared their experiences with other users online, and a similar hashtag quickly gained traction in France.
Legislators are expected to debate her proposals, which are currently being written by five MPs and include on-the-spot fines. A law could be passed next year. French President Emmanuel Macron has indicated that he is willing to mobilize additional community police officers to enforce the policy.
Whereas on-the-spot fines could send a message to perpetrators that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, critics wonder how police officers would draw a line between flirting and harassment in cases that are less clear.
If a stranger talked to a woman “10, 20 centimeters from your face” or asked “for your number 17 times,” then a fine would be appropriate, Schiappa said.
Johanna Niemi, a law and gender studies professor at Finland’s University of Turku, emphasized that there was support for the policy in Finland.
Suspects can reportedly both be fined on the scene — for instance if officers witnessed the sexual harassment — or later on, if an officer finds a witness account to be trustworthy.
If suspects believe they were unfairly fined, they can challenge the decisions in a court. Victims of sexual harassment are also still able to press criminal charges, even if suspects were already fined.