SYDNEY, Australia — After two months of sexual assault scandals, including an alleged rape inside Parliament House, Australia’s conservative government agreed on Thursday to accept a series of recommendations that aim to prevent gender-based abuse and increase accountability for misbehavior in the workplace.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called his response to the report from the country’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner “a road map for respect” that would improve workplace culture in the public and private sectors. It includes more education in schools and the promise of new legislation to end exemptions for judges and members of Parliament from the country’s Sex Discrimination Law, and allows victims to file complaints for up to two years.
Mr. Morrison’s announcement was his most comprehensive effort so far to tackle a problem that has been festering for years in Australian politics, with women mistreated, demeaned or sexually harassed, usually without recourse.
A federal review focusing on Parliament’s workplace culture has also just begun, led by the same official, Kate Jenkins, and it may produce additional calls for reform as the demand for demonstrable change has continued to intensify.
the initial report was published in March 2020, with much of its findings overlooked by Mr. Morrison’s government until now, many women demanded more details and a clear timeline.
“It’s going to take more than just words from this government to correct the impression that they don’t care about these issues,” said Louise Chappell, a political science professor at the University of New South Wales. “This is not going to go away.”
Emma Husar, a former member of Parliament with the opposition Labor Party, said the government was still delivering only “the bare minimum.”
marches for justice that drew tens of thousands of women to the streets of Australian cities.
Mr. Morrison appeared on Thursday to leave some wiggle room for himself and his Liberal Party. He said his government accepted all 55 suggestions laid out in the report “in whole, in part or in principle,” leading his critics to question which measures would be put in place at the federal level, or passed on to states or given little more than lip service.
Many of the recommendations — from the creation of a national sexual harassment research agenda to “respectful relationship” training in schools — could take years to develop. And some of the changes announced on Thursday would simply bring Australia in line with other developed democracies — such as Britain, Canada and the United States — that have also passed legislation in the past few years tightening workplace standards for lawmakers.
Professor Chappell said the exemption for members of Parliament, for example — a carve-out in the sex-discrimination law also given to religious organizations — seemed especially outdated. Like many others, she welcomed the prime minister’s promise to ensure that lawmakers and the legal profession would no longer get special treatment.
“With all the cases we’ve seen so far, they have been able to act with impunity because they are not accountable in the same way that people outside Parliament are,” she said. “There’s been pressure to change that for many years.”
But the complaint process is still not clear. When Mr. Morrison was asked what the consequences would be for a sexual harassment complaint against a lawmaker, he said that was not yet decided.
“There are many issues that we’re still going to work through as we draft this legislation,” he said.
Professor Chappell said Mr. Morrison still seemed to be struggling with how far to go with policy and how to talk about the issue. In his news conference on Thursday, he emphasized that to change the culture of disrespect in the workplace, all Australians needed to take responsibility, but not “in a way that sets Australians against each other.”
“What does he mean here?” Professor Chappell asked. “That women are being too strident? Is it possible to address sexual harassment without some level of confrontation? I don’t think so.”
The executive, Eric Brion, did not deny making such comments. But because the two did not work together, Mr. Brion argued the comments did not amount to sexual harassment and sued Ms. Muller for defamation. A ruling in 2019 that ordered Ms. Muller to pay 15,000 euros in damages, around $17,650, was overturned last week.
In 2019, the court said that Ms. Muller had “surpassed the acceptable limits of freedom of expression, as her comments descended into a personal attack.” This time, the judges found that Ms. Muller had acted in good faith, adding that the “#balancetonporc and #MeToo movements had drawn a lot of attention, had been hailed by diverse officials and personalities and had positively contributed to letting women speak freely.”
Camille Froidevaux-Metterie, a leading feminist philosopher, said that it was significant that the men now under investigation were leaders in a diversity of fields. Revelations surrounding them have undermined the myths of Frenchmen as great seducers and of a refined romantic culture where “we, French, in our interplay of seduction, know how to interpret nonverbal signs and we have this art of seduction, a gentle commerce between the sexes,” she said.
“These are men who all embody, in some ways, the old patriarchal order of things — of men of power and men who have used and abused their power to sexually exploit the bodies of others, whether they be women or young men,” Ms. Froidevaux-Metterie said, adding, “Perhaps we are experiencing the first real shock to that system.”
Some conservative intellectuals regard the ever-growing list of accused prominent men as evidence of the contamination of French society by American ideas on gender, race, religion and postcolonialism.
Pierre-André Taguieff, a historian and a leading critic of the American influence, said in an email that “neo-feminist and neo-antiracist ideologues denounce universalism, especially French republican universalism, as a fraud, a deceitful mask of imperialism, sexism and racism.”
SYDNEY, Australia — When Julia Banks arrived in Parliament five years ago after a successful career in law and business, she felt as if she’d stepped back into the ’80s. Alcohol flowed freely. She occasionally smelled it on the breath of male lawmakers when they voted.
Many men in Australian politics also thought nothing of belittling women, she said, or spreading sexual rumors. More than a few treated junior employees like playthings. Once, Ms. Banks said, a fellow lawmaker introduced a new intern while slowly rubbing his hand up and down the young woman’s back.
“I could see her visibly flinch,” Ms. Banks said. “She and I locked eyes, and I’m sure the nonverbal cue to me was ‘don’t say anything, please don’t say anything, I’ll lose my job.’”
“It is the most unsafe workplace in the country,” she added.
Australia’s #MeToo moment has arrived, late but strong, like a tsunami directed at the country’s political foundation. Six weeks after a former legislative staffer, Brittany Higgins, accused a senior colleague of raping her in the defense minister’s office, thousands of women are standing up to share their stories, march for justice and demand change.
finishing a book about bias, said she encountered the low hum of disrespect at one of her first fund-raisers, where she discovered she was not on the speakers’ list. It was all men.
from 15th to 50th in the world for parliamentary gender diversity. The parliamentary delegations of the conservative Liberal and National parties, which govern with a slim majority, are more than 80 percent male.
Contributing to the fraternity vibe, Canberra is a part-time capital. Votes are often called after 6 p.m., and families are left behind in local districts, since the legislature only sits for 20 weeks a year. When it’s busy, Parliament has often been compared to a gentleman’s club, though to some, it’s more Peter Pan at the pub.
Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens party senator, said male rivals would often shout across the chamber the names of men she was falsely accused of sleeping with.
“It was like a game these blokes were playing with just the most intense level of scorn,” she told Ms. Ellis for her book “Sex, Lies and Question Time.”
Ms. Hanson-Young sued a Senate colleague, David Leyonhjelm, for defamation after he shouted “stop shagging men” at her on the floor of the chamber in 2018. She recently won a $120,000 judgment against him but endured death threats along the way.
apologized and removed the article. But the story went viral, and Ms. Husar said she was forced by her party to step aside and not run again in 2019.
Ms. Ellis called the story about Ms. Husar “weaponized gossip.” She said she had a near miss when a reporter almost wrote about a lie making the rounds, that she and her chief of staff were sleeping with the same man.
Women said the message from their bosses was always clear: Secrets are for insiders, and don’t bother trying to find the truth.
“There has been this sort of ‘do know, don’t tell’ policy,” said Professor Chappell at the University of New South Wales. “The bubble analogy works — everyone who’s in there was keeping the secrets.”
have since come forward with accusations in the news media against the same man. (He was fired after the alleged attack on Ms. Higgins but has not been publicly identified.)
The women’s collective claims broke the stalemate. Women in Parliament and others who had recently left called for accountability. Tens of thousands of women marched all over Australia on March 4 to demand justice, inspired by Ms. Higgins and angered by accusations against Christian Porter, then the attorney general.
Just a day earlier, as news reports emerged of an unidentified cabinet minister accused of sexual assault, Mr. Porter had named himself as the suspect. He publicly denied the allegation — made by a woman who said he raped her when they were teenagers — and refused to resign.
masturbating onto the desks of female ministers. One of them has been fired.
A Liberal lawmaker was accused of harassing two female constituents. He agreed not to run again and apologized, but Mr. Morrison has come under fire for not making him resign.
Many women are also angry at the prime minister for protecting Mr. Porter, whom he recently moved from his role as attorney general into a new cabinet position.
And more women are resisting a return to business as usual.
Last week, Dr. Anne Webster, a new member of Parliament with the conservative National Party, said a male lawmaker had sexually harassed her. That kind of thing might once have been ignored, but she filed a formal complaint with party leadership, prompting the man to apologize.
“That’s what Australians expect of us now,” she said.
“Inch by inch, culture changes,” she added. “All of us are learning; all of us are adjusting to a new platform.”
Even Xinhua, the official news agency, chided local officials for trying to eliminate posts about the topic. “In the face of public skepticism, the local authorities should not resort to deleting posts,” the Xinhua commentary said. “A public response is the only correct measure.”
Ms. Xu’s fight is now playing out in public to a rapt audience.
Her parents hired two lawyers from Shanghai to represent her, but the local appeals court rejected their request to meet. Instead, it appointed two legal aid lawyers, according to a post by Ms. Xu’s uncle on Weibo, the social media service. He used a verified Weibo account, meaning the Chinese censors knew his identity and tacitly approved of the comments. The post was reposted more than 66,000 times and liked over a quarter of a million times in 24 hours.
Ms. Xu’s uncle said on the account that the government officials were socially respected figures in their 40s and 50s, far more senior and powerful than his niece. Their ages aren’t clear, since the verdict disclosed only their family names and their positions.
Online watchers of the trial also amplified an article by an online news outlet in Sichuan earlier this month that said it had interviewed Ms. Xu’s father. According to the article, her father accused local authorities of making her a scapegoat and asked why they hadn’t come forward earlier.
The outlet didn’t name him, and his comments couldn’t be corroborated, though her uncle quoted it approvingly in a Weibo post. The news site deleted the article a few hours later without explanation. Still, a hashtag citing the article got 130 million views within 12 hours on Weibo.
Even as people online cheer Ms. Xu’s appeal, many acknowledge that she has a tough fight ahead. They fear she will become the latest victim of the government’s drive to prove itself right. They also believe that, in the dark corners of government offices, many female employees will have to continue putting up with their bosses’ sexual advances.
“This is not the first time this type of thing has happened,” one Weibo user wrote, “nor will it be the last time.”
PARIS — The French National Assembly adopted legislation late Monday that characterizes sex between adults and minors under 15 as rape, a move made after years of debate and rounds of sexual abuse scandals gradually pushed lawmakers to bring the French criminal code closer to that of most other Western countries.
“Children are off-limits,” France’s justice minister, Eric Dupont-Moretti, told the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, ahead of the vote on Monday. Under the bill, a sexual relationship with a minor under 15 would be punishable by 20 years in prison, unless the age gap between the consensual partners were small.
The bill, which also includes a provision that would make incest a specific crime, will go to the Senate this month and is expected to get final approval in April. The incest ban would also apply to sexual relationships between children under 18 and their step parents.
That lawmakers agreed on setting an age of consent only three years after having voted against a similar law largely reflects the impact of a series of recent sexual abuse scandals.
fall from grace of a writer who for decades openly engaged in and promoted pedophilia with the support of powerful friends and amid accusations of incest against a prominent French intellectual that surfaced in January.
Fresh allegations of sexual abuse against powerful figures in politics, the arts and the media that fueled new #MeToo movements have also increased pressure on the French government to take action.
“There has been a real shift in the public opinion and an awareness that there is a problem with these sexual violence cases,” said Pierre Verdrager, a sociologist who has studied pedophilia, adding that France had become highly aware of these issues.
Feminists have also contributed to this change in attitude, Mr. Verdrager said, and raised public awareness by speaking out against sexual abuse in the arts and papering Paris with posters denouncing domestic and sexual violence.
French law already prohibited sex between an adult and a minor under the age of 15, but it was not automatically considered rape. Further circumstances, such as the use of coercion, threats, or violence, were necessary to characterize such sexual relationships as rape.
toughened laws against sex crimes and extended the statute of limitations for rape against a minor to 30 years from 20 years, but lawmakers had stopped short of setting an age of sexual consent, citing legal complications.
Some lawmakers, following warnings from France’s Constitutional Council, were worried that setting an age of consent would automatically criminalize sexual relationships between a minor under the age of consent and a person only a few years older. The council reviews legislation to ensure it complies with the French Constitution.
In response, the new bill includes a “Romeo and Juliet” clause that would allow for sexual relationships between a children under 15 and an adult up to five years older. This clause would not apply in rape or assault cases.
“I do not want to put a kid aged 18 on trial because he had a consenting relationship with a girl of 14-and-a-half,” Mr. Dupond-Moretti said.
Alexandra Louis, a French lawmaker supporting the bill, said that the provisions that had been added to bill, such as the Romeo and Juliet clause, gave her hope that the measure would be approved by the Constitutional Council.
Some 300 amendments were discussed but the bill eventually passed unanimously and in one day. Ms. Louis said that the bill had “reached a consensus” and marked “a historic breakthrough.”
The legislation also extends beyond 30 years the statute of limitations for rape of a minor in cases where the adult has raped others, and introduces jail sentences of 10 years and a fine of 150,000 euros, or about $180,000, for anyone convicted of inciting children under the age of 15, via the internet, to commit sexual acts.
“Our task is huge,” Mr. Dupont-Moretti said. “It’s about changing the law to finally, completely and totally protect our children.”