The scene outside a Paris café is as short as is it shocking in its almost casual violence, reports The Guardian.
A young woman in a scarlet red dress passes a bearded man in a black T-shirt with his jacket slung over one shoulder. Both are walking briskly. The man says something to the woman. She turns her head and replies. Both continue walking.
Then the man picks up an ashtray and throws it in the direction of the woman, who is by now off camera. A second later the man is striding purposefully toward her and she has returned into view.
He approaches her and without warning hits 22-year-old architecture student Marie Laguerre with a blow so violent she stumbles and falls against the glass barrier of the café terrace.
As shocked customers drinking coffee and beer jump to their feet to remonstrate with the attacker, one brandishing a chair, he appears to argue with them briefly before walking off.
CCTV video of the attack on Laguerre, given to her by the café owner, has now gone viral after she posted it on Facebook. It has also bolstered the French government attempts to outlaw sexual harassment on the country’s streets and public transport.
Laguerre was walking home around 6.45pm past a café close to Buttes-Chaumont park in the 19th arrondissement of north Paris, when she encountered her attacker. She said he “made dirty noises, comments and whistled” toward her as they passed. Instead of walking on, Laguerre decided to call him out, responding “Ta gueule!”, [Shut your face].
“I didn’t even think he heard me,” she told the newspaper Le Parisien. “But he had heard me and suddenly things happened suddenly. He grabbed an ashtray and threw it at me. It missed my head by a few centimetres.”
Laguerre shouted back at the man. “I felt hatred. I refused to be demeaned, it was humiliating.” The man walked back and as she stood facing him, hit her hard.
The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an inquiry into the incident, but so far the attacker has not been identified.
After the attack made the headlines, the French equalities minister, Marlène Schiappa, who persuaded the Assemblée Nationale to pass legislation in May introducing fines for sexual harassment on the street and public transport, said she was “outraged … but not surprised, unfortunately” by the assault.
The bill, which outlaws “annoying, following and threatening” a woman as well as making sexist comments, is scheduled to be adopted in the next week. Fines come into effect in the autumn.
“The political response must be strong and it is, because for the first time in France we will fine those responsible for street harassment,” Schiappa said.
Laguerre told journalists she did not regret challenging the man verbally. She said she could have run off but she “wasn’t going to look down and certainly wasn’t going to apologise”.
“I was so annoyed I didn’t want to hide, to look down. That he dared to be angry when it was me who had reason to be angry,” she said. “I turned to him and everything went extremely fast, but then I knew he was going to hit me. I was even ready to fight. When the blow came, I took it without showing any emotion. He continued to scream.”