Marie Laguerre was violently hit by a man on a Paris street in front of a busy cafe, after she replied to his harassment with the word ‘shut up’.
The video of the incident has gone viral all over the world, and the powerful reaction to it shows that when the public and lawmakers can clearly see shocking violence on the street, they’ll be prompted to do something about it.
Indeed, without the surveillance footage, this incident would merely be that: another incident in another city street, somewhere in the world. A woman left not only hurt, but shaken and humiliated.
But the video got the media calling, knowing full well the horror and the outrage that video evidence of the situation would incite in readers and viewers.
As such, Laguerre has given interviews to international media, including the ABC here in Australia, since she posted the surveillance footage online. She says she wants to use the attention she’s receiving to push for change on an issue affecting women all over the world.
In France, already the Government has moved to swiftly pass a law making street harassment illegal, punishable by on-the-spot fine of up to 750 euros. While French lawmakers had been debating the law for a number of months, it was finally passed in the days after the video went viral.
Laguerre, a 22-year-old architecture student, is pushing for more.
Just a week since posting the footage, she’s created a website called Nous Toutes Harcelement for women to anonymously report harassment occurring on the street, the workplace or elsewhere.
And she’s launched a Change.org petition demanding the French Government do more, which already has close to 40,000 signatures.
“This humiliation, this blow, I know it’s not a personal matter,” she writes on the Change.org page. “It is a fact of society. Many men consider it normal to impose sexist behaviours on women, or even to beat them. Many testimonies show it. But there is no inevitability, by changing the mentalities, we can put an end to all that.”
Through the petition, Laguerre is calling for education about sexism in school, from kindergarten. She’s also calling for a major national awareness campaign against sexism and violence.
And she’s demanding the French Government allocate one billion euros (as has been done in Spain) to train professionals who intervene, including police officers, magistrates, occupational physicians, nurses and teaches.
“The lack of resources available to our course is distressing,” she says. “Feminist associations are overwhelmed and underfunded. They receive, listen, accompany the victims in their efforts, which should be supported by public police, by the state, by the communities.”
Posting the surveillance video to YouTube, Laguerre wrote that she was heading home in Paris when she walked by the man who verbally harassed her. He wasn’t the first one to do so, and she can’t accept being humiliated, she wrote. So she replied ‘shut up’.
Laguerre says the man then threw an ashtray at her, before returning to punch her in the face in front of dozens of people. “This is unacceptable behaviour. It happens everyday, everywhere and I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have a similar story.” The video has been viewed almost six million times, and shared much more widely across major news websites and channels.
While Laguerre has filed a complaint with police, her attacker has not been identified or arrested.
It shouldn’t take video footage of street harassment and violence against women in order to prompt change. We know the vast majority of harassment is rarely heard and witnessed by anyone else other than the victim — and violence against women mostly occurs behind closed doors.
But all power to Laguerre in immediately using a horrible thing that happened to her — that this time happened to be captured on camera — in standing up for change.