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French women protest, launch petition over sexual harassment in Parisian district

Outraged women in an eastern Parisian district have staged demonstrations and launched an online petition receiving 7,000 signatures within 24 hours – all over a “male den” in their neighborhood where women are subject to harassment and sexist remarks.

In what is described as “a few hundred square meters” in the neighborhood of Chapelle-Pajol, cafes, bars, and restaurants are effectively banned for local women, Le Parisien reports. Residents say that over the past year, the area has changed completely, with groups of men of unidentified origin, as well as street vendors, harassing local women.

Locals staged a protest on Friday to draw attention to what is going on in the area.

They also started a petition titled “Women, an endangered species in the heart of Paris,” which states: “There are insults, in all languages: ‘Bi**h, dirty whore, I’ll f**k you…’”

They go on to describe how things currently are in their neighborhood, and the picture they paint is frightening.

“There are pickpockets, street drinking, spitting, rubbish everywhere, a strong smell of urine. Traffickers are settling down, traffickers of human beings, drugs, fake documents. The traffickers let us know every day that we are undesirable, us and our children.”

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Residents are forced to stay at home, fearing to venture outside, the petition adds.

“This must stop!” the petition concludes, urging the local authorities to “finally comply with laws and regulations, particularly in the places where traffickers are stationed, to carry out investigations on the sectors, to increase the number… of police officers assigned to this area.”

Local women told French media about their plight, with young girls unable to go out alone or wear skirts or tight trousers.

“The atmosphere is agonizing, to the point of having to modify our itinerary, our clothes. Some even gave up going out,” 50-year-old Natalie, who has lived in the area for 30 years, told Le Parisien, adding that one 80-year-old woman had been sexually abused when going home once, and since then had not been out.

38-year-old Aurelie said that she does not recognize the area she has lived in for 15 years.

“The simple fact of going out has become a problem. The cafe downstairs, once a friendly bistro, has turned into an exclusively male den and is constantly crowded. I get my lot of remarks when I go there, especially since they drink so much. A while ago, I used the Boulevard de la Chapelle from Stalingrad [metro station], even late at night. It’s unthinkable today.

“A few days ago, the simple fact of putting myself at my window triggered a flood of insults, and I had to lock myself in my apartment.”

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And the blood-chilling accounts of local women just go on and on.

“In recent weeks, I was caught in the middle of a brawl of vendors. I screamed, and two of them took out knives to threaten me. I thought my last hour had arrived. And it’s been months since my 12-year-old daughter no longer goes to [school] alone, nor anywhere in the neighborhood,” local resident Laure told Le Parisien.

Younger residents, like Julia, 20, also spoke out, telling L’Express: “When I walk around, I sometimes feel as if I was a piece of meat on display.”

Hayatte, 26, says, “I feel that near the metro, some men take a look at me and it deprives me of some of my freedoms. I stopped putting my lipstick on when I go out.”

There are those, however, who say that all the complaints are “a manipulation of truth.”

“The majority of people in the area behave well – this is a witch hunt on immigrants,” Alice, 40, told The Local, while Zeynab, a woman working in the area, said that she comes to the area daily, and “if I didn’t feel safe I wouldn’t do it. This is a lie made up by the press and right-wing politicians.”

Local authorities have responded to the complaints, with a meeting to discuss the problem set to take place in the neighborhood council on Monday.

Eric Lejoindre from the Mayor’s Office recognizes the complexity of the situation, saying: “Women have a feeling of vulnerability to this violence, often associated with alcoholism, but the public response is essentially police.”

There are, in fact, already police special operations in place to deal with the situation. In January, an operation called “Barbes [area near Montmartre] breathes” resulted in 110 raids, leading to over 19,000 evictions of vendors, and 884 people were arrested.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was harsh in her evaluation of the situation, saying: “We will not tolerate an area being prey to acts of discrimination against women.”

“That does not correspond to the values of Paris nor of the Republic. I wish to inform local residents that we are entirely at their side and that our action will not falter until the situation returns to normal,” she added, pledging action on Twitter.

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