It’s a scene typical of any European city – people sat outside having a coffee and a chat, as life bustles around them, at around 6.45pm on a light Tuesday evening. On the perimeters of the café, and just in shot of the now-viral CCTV footage, a woman wearing a red dress and a man carrying a bag cross paths. We can’t hear it, but he makes “dirty noises, comments and whistles” – an unwarranted gesture of sexual harassment, for which she tells him to shut up. What happens next is abhorrent.
After walking away for a second, the man picks up an ashtray and hurls it across the café at the woman. The diners stop their conversations and look at the woman, but do nothing. Quickly, the man and woman – now named as 22-year-old architecture student Marie Laguerre – appear back in the frame and exchange a few heated words. Then he hits her. Hard. So hard, she is knocked off her feet, though she manages to stay standing.
The man quickly exits the scene, as those who saw the attack begin to confront him. Laguerre is stood at the edge of shot all the while, eventually – and defiantly – giving him the middle finger.
This video is a perfect example of the dangers women face, no matter the situation or circumstances – hopefully, Laguerre’s story will finally help the world wake up to that
Laguerre shared the footage on her YouTube channel on Saturday, and it has since been viewed over three million times. “This is an unacceptable behaviour. It happens everyday, everywhere and I don't know a single woman who doesn't have a similar story,” she wrote as the video description. “I am sick of feeling unsafe walking in the street. Things need to change, and they need to change now.”
For French women, it seems that Laguerre’s experience is not an isolated incident. Twitter is teeming with similar stories, shared with the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc – “rat on your pig” – the French equivalent of #MeToo, including one from British embassy employee, Laura Hulley:
The outrage generated by the footage of Laguerre is so vehement that French politicians are now offering their support and solidarity with the student. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, tweeted in “solidarité totale!” with Laguerre, while equalities minister Marlène Schiappa said women feeling safe in the street is a “fundamental issue of liberty”.
An inquiry has been opened into the incident, though no more details of the attacker’s identity have been revealed.
New legislation on sexual harassment and violence was passed by France’s assemblée nationale in May, and is due to go before parliament in the coming months. The new law will impose an on-the-spot fine for anyone found guilty of public sexual harassment and also extends the amount of time victims have to report a rape that happened when they were a child.
Laguerre wasn’t doing any of the things women are so often warned about – walking alone, at night, in a secluded area. She was hit by a man in the light of the early evening, in a very public place, with lots of witnesses. While detestable, this video is a perfect example of the dangers women face, no matter the situation or circumstances – hopefully, Laguerre’s story will finally help the world wake up to that.