Woman behind France’s #MeToo movement being sued by man she accused

  01 June 2019    Read: 1064
Woman behind France’s #MeToo movement being sued by man she accused

The woman behind the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault in France appeared in court in Paris after she was accused of defaming the man who she said sexually harassed her.

Sandra Muller, a New York-based French journalist, accused French TV executive Eric Brion of making sexually explicit comments to her at a work party.

“You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night,” Ms Muller’s tweet quoted him as saying.

While her tweet was sent in October 2017 in the wake of the Harvey Weinsteinsexual harassment scandal, it was referring to an incident that happened five years earlier.  

Ms Muller called for other women to come forward with their own experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace using the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc – which means rat on your pig – in a separate tweet.

A year after her tweet, #BalanceTonPorc had appeared on close to one million tweets, according to one social media tracking site.

“#balancetonporc! You too can recount by giving the name and details of a sexual harassment you have known in your job,” she tweeted back in October 2017.

Mr Brion says he flirted with Ms Muller inappropriately on one single occasion but his depiction as a predator has wrecked his career. He is seeking €50,000 (£44,000) in damages, – as well as  €15,000 in legal fees and the deletion of the tweet which named him.

The hearing, which took place on Wednesday, garnered widespread attention in France, where there has been a backlash to the #balancetonporc movement.

Mr Brion’s legal team said that while he had apologised for his clumsy or inappropriate flirtation, he had “never admitted to harassing anyone”.

“He said that one evening he tried to flirt with Sandra Muller as he liked her,” his lawyer Marie Burguburu told the court. 

She added: “This is his right to flirt”.

Ms Muller, who attended the hearing, said she had “started a movement that spread through all levels of society”. She said she wanted to see that “sexist insults, whatever they are, are finally taken seriously”.

Mr Brion told the court that although he had made the comments to Mr Muller, he was not “a sexual harasser” and had apologised to Ms Muller the next day via text message. He said it had become extremely difficult to find work.

He said he was taking legal action because he had already been tried “by social media” where it is “impossible to defend yourself”.

Ms Muller’s lawyer Francis Szpiner told the court: “If you do not feel that when a man stands in front of you and makes you such a proposal, it’s offensive, I’m sorry for you, but today a majority of women and men think it is.”

“It was a cry of anger, without any intention of causing harm,” Ms Muller told the court.

When she received the court summons in January, she voiced surprise that in spite of his apology, Mr Brion “changed his strategy and decided, against all decency, to take me to court”.

She vowed she would “fight to the end” – adding that she hoped the trial would be “an opportunity to hold a real debate on ways to fight against sexual harassment”.

“#balancetonporc has allowed victims to make their voices heard and shed light on a real societal problem that remains taboo,” she said in a Facebook post in January.

Judgement in the case is due in September.

In January, a report found more than a million French women were forced to endure sexist insults in 2017 with only four convictions for breaches of sexual harassment laws. The report by France’s High Council for Gender Equality was the major first investigation into sexism to be carried out in France.

Sexist insults are described in the research as “daily violence” faced by women. The most frequently reported insults were salope (slut), pute (whore) and connasse (bitch).

Last year politicians approved legislation which introduced fines of up to €750 for wolf-whistling or sexual harassment on the street.

 

The Independent


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