Witnessing sexual harassment in Paris

A friend, who works in security and diplomacy once told me that a good way to get a feel for a place you are thinking about visiting is to read the local news from the area. Reading what's being reported is one of the best ones to tap into the public consciousness and gauge the current vibe of a place.

When I got to Paris, I forgot to do this. I looked up accommodation and chose a place based primarily on price and distance from the nearest metro station. I've been staying about 1km from the Moulin Rouge (which I didn't realise until I walked past one night.) I'm also close to La Chapelle district, which meant nothing to me until this morning when I read a particularly disturbing article about the widespread issue of street harassment in the area.

I arrived on a Friday night. After I checked in to my accommodation I went for a walk along Boulevard de Rochechouart to get acquainted with the area and grab a drink. There were lots of people about and lots of tourists taking in the novelty of the prominent sex shops and red light district. Walking back to my accommodation around 1 AM, I found myself walking behind two men who were clearly intoxicated. A woman was walking in the opposite direction and as she came closer, one of the men moved suddenly towards her. As she passed him he groped her breasts. She pushed him away, whirled around missing him with her handbag and yelled at him in French. He had a smirk on his face and replied in French too, so I didn't catch what was said by either of them. The man then started to undo his shirt and dance in front of her. Myself and another guy walking beside me checked to see if the lady was OK. She was flustered, but acted as though it wasn't the first time something like this had happened. She huffed, stamped her foot and kept walking.

I didn't think anything more of this situation again until this morning when I thought I should check up on the news from Paris. I looked up Parisian news and found this article by Megan Clement for The Guardian, titled "'No-go zone' for women? How street harassment in Paris boiled over." I read the article and it was about the prevalence of sexual harassment on the streets of La Chapelle and the surrounding areas. Reading the article put a new spin on the incident I witnessed, as I realised this is a serious issue that is in the public's consciousness at the moment. I haven't seen such blatant harassment in any part of Europe as I have in this part of Paris.

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