PARIS (AFP) – For many women who venture out during the coronavirus shutdown in France, the absence of a crowd has made them easier targets for sexual assault and harassment, a threat that could increase as authorities prepare to ease home care orders.
Women’s rights groups report an increase in incidents in broad daylight by attackers who know that their victims are unlikely to be able to ask for help.
Fatima Benomar, a 36-year-old human rights activist, said she was chased by several young people from rue de Rivoli in Paris, a wide open artery that was emptied of cars and passers-by.
“They came because I ignored their calls and started to insult and threaten me,” said Ms. Benomar. “It was incredibly scary. “
“There was no way to escape, all the stores were closed and there was no one to ask for help,” she said.
Laurene Martin, a 28-year-old nurse, said the trip from Paris to a nearby suburb never caused her alarm until the lock was imposed on March 17.
“On the second day of detention, guys jumped on the subway and stole my phone. I screamed and they fled, but the only other person on the train, a man, came right next to me and asked me if I was married, “she said.
Since then, other incidents have convinced her to buy a bike to get to work.
“It is certainly worse than before,” said Martin. “There are fewer people to target and fewer witnesses.”
Police, who urged victims or witnesses to report any cases, have not released official figures on the number of reports of assaults during the lockdown.
But prosecutors reported last week that two women had been assaulted in rare rapes in public spaces within 24 hours of each other – one in a park, the other on a street – in Seine-Saint-Denis, just north of Paris.
Rights defender Geraldine Franck in Paris said she had followed numerous testimonies on the social networks of harassed women while trying to take advantage of their rare moments outside.
“These moments have become a nerve-wracking ordeal and women quickly return home out of fear,” she said. “Day is now like night, for women, there is no difference. “
This fear, “normally felt only at night,” is shared by 26-year-old Daniella Corallo-Martin, who said that men have been harassing her daily when she travels by metro since mid-March.
She adopted a series of precautions to navigate “in a strange atmosphere, many dinghies, disturbed people, those who are normally only part of the crowd.
“I keep my eyes open for anyone who follows me, and on the platform, I always find someone next to me. I never get on an almost empty train and I don’t listen to any music, “said the migrant aid worker. .
Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said Thursday she was concerned about “a real risk of increased sexual violence” from May 11, the date on which home orders should be lifted in large areas from the country.
She stressed the risk of pent-up energy among the attackers as well as “a feeling of impunity” because the streets should always be cleared because people will work from home and exits will always be discouraged to ensure social distancing.
His ministry has set up an expert working group to determine what measures will be taken to protect women once the lock begins to be lifted.