What do we mean when we talk about sexual harassment and sexual, sexist or homophobic violence?

Harassment, aggression, rape, sexual or homophobic insults

Sexual harassment

L’article 222-33 of the French Penal Code defines Sexual Harassment as “repeatedly subjecting a person to words or behaviour with a sexual connotation, which harm their dignity due to their degrading or humiliating nature, or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive situation for them.

The use of any form of serious pressure with the real or apparent aim of obtaining any act of a sexual nature, whether for the perpetrator or on behalf of a third party is considered as equivalent to sexual harassment. The above-mentioned acts are punishable by two years’ imprisonment and a €30,000 fine.

These penalties are increased to three years’ imprisonment and a €45,000 fine when the acts are committed:

  1. By a person abusing the authority granted to him or her by their position;
  2. On a minor aged under fifteen years old;
  3. On a person whose vulnerable nature due to their age, illness, disability, mental or physical deficiency or pregnancy is apparent or known to the perpetrator;
  4. On a person whose vulnerable nature or dependency results from their precarious economic or social situation, when this is apparent or known to the perpetrator;
  5. By several people operating as perpetrators or accomplices. 

Sexual aggression

L’article 222-22 of the French Penal Code defines sexual aggression as "any sexual assault committed with violence, constraint [physical or mental – age difference, legal or de facto authority - article 222-22-1],threat or surprise.

Rape and other forms of sexual assault are considered as occurring when they are imposed on the victim under the circumstances mentioned in this section, regardless of the nature of the relationship existing between the aggressor and the victim, including if they are married". 

L’article 222-22-2 of the French Penal Code explains that obliging a person to submit to a sexual assault by a third party, through the use of violence, threats or surprise, will also be considered as an act of sexual aggression".  

L’article 222-27 of the French Penal Code states that “sexual aggressions other than rape are punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a €75,000 fine". 

Aggravating circumstances - article 222-28 – may result in the sentences being increased to "seven years’ imprisonment and a €100,000 fine".


L’article 222-23 of the French Penal Code defines rape as follows: "Any act of sexual penetration, whatever its nature, committed against another person by violence, constraint, threat or surprise is rape. 

Rape is punished by fifteen years’ criminal imprisonment”.

Aggravating circumstances - article 222-24 - may result in the sentences being increased to “twenty years’ criminal imprisonment”.

In situations of rape, it is important to keep the clothes worn at the time the act was committed and to quickly go to the police station or to see a doctor.

Sexist or homophobic insults

L’article R624-4 of the French Penal Code explains that “non-public insults directed at a person or a group of people due to their origin or their real or supposed membership or non-membership of a given ethnic group, nation, race or religion is punishable by the fines provided for class 4 offences. 

It is punishable with the same penalties for non-public insults committed against a person or a group of people due to their sex, sexual orientation or disability”.

L’article 225-2 of the French Penal Code explains that “Discrimination against a natural or legal person is punished by three years’ imprisonment and a €45,000 fine where it consists:

  1. Of the refusal to supply goods or services;
  2. Of obstructing the exercise of any economic activity;
  3. Of the refusal to hire, sanction or dismiss a person;
  4. Of subjecting the supply of goods or services to a condition based on one of the factors mentioned in article 225-1 or referred to under articles 225-1-1 or225-1-2;
  5. Of subjecting an offer of employment, an application for a course or a training period to a condition based on one of the factors mentioned in article 225-1 or referred to in articles 225-1-1 or 225-1-2;
  6. Of refusing to accept a person on one of the courses referred to in 2° of article L. 412-8 of the social security code.

Where the discriminatory refusal referred to under 1 ° is committed in a public place or in order to bar access to this place, the penalties are increased to five years' imprisonment and to a fine of 75,000 euros”.

Reporting a crime through the criminal justice system

If you would like to report any acts with the aim of having the aggressor punished, to obtain compensation and to report any person who may potentially harm other potential victims, you may submit a complaint through the criminal justice system.

It is very important to gather any proof which may be examined by the justice system as part of the investigation: keep any written material, text messages, e-mails or witness statements, etc. 

You have 6 years as from the date of the last acts/words to submit a complaint for sexual harassment or sexual violence and 20 years for a rape.

The procedures and formalities can be cumbersome and complex from a psychological viewpoint. We advise you to take someone with you by contacting specialised organisations and associations (contact details below).

You can submit a complaint directly at the police station where a police officer will take your statement.

You may also possibly be referred to the Forensic Medical Emergency service for a medical examination.

The interview with the police officer is an important stage in the processing of your case. You may be advised by a lawyer or by specialised organisations to help you prepare for this interview.

A statement will be drafted and given to you to sign. It’s important that you check all of the information on the statement and feel free to ask for any modifications to be made, or to add any important information to ensure that this statement is as complete as possible and accurately reflects all the facts.

You’ll find all the information you need to defend yourself on the website of the CLASCHES, a group which works to fight sexual harassment in the higher education sector.

Download files

Support Plan Sexual Harassment (PDF - 3 MB)
Back to top