French parliament tackles sexual misconduct, amid scandals

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PARIS — The speaker of the French parliament has released the first public account of complaints to a special unit aimed at tackling sexual harassment and other misconduct, after several cases involving French lawmakers accused of abuse sparked outrage public.

Yaël Braun-Pivet, the first female president of France’s National Assembly, said on public radio France-Info on Thursday that 40 cases of inappropriate behavior within the legislature – including sexual or moral harassment – had been recorded since then. January 2021.

The anti-harassment unit, created in 2020, is part of a gradual but growing approach to combating sexual and sexist abuse in French society. Independent and specialized doctors and lawyers accompany people working in the lower house of France, from legislators to assistant assistants or staff.

According to French law, if the situations that have been reported can constitute a crime, they must be reported to the prosecutors. A case from last year followed this procedure, Braun-Pivet said.

Internal sanctions can also be imposed, she said, though she did not specify what happened in each case.

“It was important to have a special unit to handle these situations,” she said, insisting there is no code of silence around such abuses in parliament, and urging victims to express themselves.

The new figures came amid a scandal that has rocked the left-wing opposition in the National Assembly: prominent far-left lawmaker Adrien Quatennens recently admitted to slapping his wife, and the influential three-way candidate presidential occasions Jean-Luc Melenchon initially defended him.

Quatennens resigned from his role as party coordinator; Melenchon has been criticized within their leftist camp for failing to deliver on his promises to stand up for women’s rights and tackle gender-based violence.

Another figurehead of the left, lawmaker Julien Bayou was “suspended from his duties” as co-chairman of the Greens party group in the National Assembly on Tuesday, after a former associate accused him of psychological abuse in a complaint to the party’s anti-socialist leadership. harassment unit. Bayou has not commented on the accusation, and the party will decide in the coming week on his future role. An internal party investigation is underway.

Braun-Pivet said it was a lawmaker’s “personal choice” to resign if accused of wrongdoing, but the law does not require him to resign.

Former French minister Damien Abad had to leave the government after being accused of rape by two women. The case helped galvanize a movement to expose sexual misconduct in French politics. Abad, also a member of parliament, denied the allegations. The prosecution has opened a preliminary investigation into the charges.

Braun-Pivet spoke of her own experience in the National Assembly where she was first elected in 2017 and was the target of sexist behavior including inappropriate “remarks” and “little noises”.

But she hopes that things will gradually change. She noted that women make up 37% of legislators in the National Assembly – up from 39% five years ago but down from 12% a generation ago – and five of the National Assembly’s six vice-presidents are now women. women.

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Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.

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