/EU legislation to fight street harassment is unattainable

EU legislation to fight street harassment is unattainable

Local governments in The Netherlands are taking measures to combat street harassment and French parliament has passed a law to punish offenders, But a prevailing EU legislation is not yet feasible.

In the park, on the street, and on the bus going to work. It can be everything from a whistle to shouting and following. Everyday women across the globe have to endure street harassment. According to a report published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Human Rights, 55 % of the women in the EU have experienced sexual harassment at least once.

“It happens almost on a daily basis, especially in good weather. It doesn’t help to react, so I usually just ignore it. That’s why we need a regulation. So that I can call the police because it’s illegal” says Pleun van Onzenoort, chairman of the Dutch foundation Stop Straatintimidatie.

The issue of street harassment is being put on the agenda in many European countries. In The Netherlands, local governments in larger cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague are campaigning against street harassment and fines have been introduced. Stop Straatintimidatie is one of the foundations lobbying for a national law.

“We have to raise awareness. We want people to stop, not only through fines, but through changing a behaviour” urges chairman Van Onzenoort.

In France, a man was recently sentenced to three months of prison after grabbing a woman’s behind and commenting on her breasts on a bus. This is the first settled case after the new national “catcalling-law” was passed in August, aiming to tackle the problem of sexual harassment in public spaces. But is it possible to legislate an EU law to fine catcallers and street harassers?

Nicolas Delaleu is the press officer of FEMM, the European Parliament Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. He does not see EU legislation on sexual harassment as a feasible option.

“This issue falls under the remit of member states, so it up to each member states to pass its own law on this matter. The latest propositions on that matter are in a resolution from the European Parliament. But it’s an own-initiative, non-binding report, meaning the Commission and member states are not legally obliged to implement these propositions” he says.

The Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement have stirred up the debate of sexual harassment in the passed year. The resolution from the European parliament affirms that sexual harassment victims should be helped to report cases and perpetrators should face sanctions. Nonetheless, EU legislation seems to be out of reach at the moment. Raising awareness and putting street harassment on the agenda is a step in the right direction.

But will women ever have the possibility to feel safe in a public environment? Pleun van Onzenoort strongly believes that it is necessary to have it in national criminal law to bring about change.

“We have to forbid it. It will not be taken seriously if it isn’t in criminal law. And it has to be enforced” she says.