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French launches €14m ‘only yes means yes’ campaign on sexual consent

France's higher education ministry has launched a €14 million campaign around sexual consent, teaching students to seek explicit consent for any sexual encounter under the slogan 'sans oui, c'est interdit' (without a yes, it's forbidden).

French launches €14m 'only yes means yes' campaign on sexual consent
A protester raises her fist in front of a poster reading 'There is a taste of rape when I'm studying at the university' during a demonstration on March 6, 2021. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

The campaign is hoping to teach students to: “Ask explicitly and look for an enthusiastic yes; Get into the habit of posing simple questions like ‘Do you want to?’ ‘Can I?’ ‘What do you like?’ and ‘What do you want us to experience together?’; Listen to the other person; Respect his or her desires and own limits; and finally, Accept No.”

Other prevention actions for the 2022 school year will include training sessions for dedicated anti-assault units in most of France’s universities. So far, over 900 teachers, students, and staff across the country have been trained. 

Ahead of week-ends d’intégration – or welcome weekends at the start of the school year, which are known for festivities and higher consumption of alcohol amongst the student body – posters with the new slogan “Without a ‘yes,’ it’s off limits” (Sans oui, c’est interdit) appeared across campuses in France to help educate students about consent.

Sylvie Retailleau, the Minister for Higher Education, stressed the importance of such actions in an interview with daily Le Parisien.

The minister explained that about “149,000 students in France are affected by sexual assault or attempted assault” each year. 

According to Retailleau, that number represents approximately four percent of the total student body (for higher education) in France.

With the annual budget doubling from €1.7 to €3.5 million per year, Retailleau intends for associations, such as the “National Association for Student Athletics” (Anestaps) to receive more grant money to help sexual assault prevention.

The consent awareness campaign will also partner with websites like Konbini to reach students online. Informative videos with advice and testimonies from students, as well as a consent quiz (consentest) will be posted across social media to help educate young people across the country.

Additionally, Anestaps will set up “safe spaces” during onboarding festivities and welcome weekends, to ensure that students who have been harassed or feel unsafe have a place to go to and a secure person to speak with.

The organisation will also use the ‘angel shots’ system during school events. Students who feel unsafe can order a fake drink at the bar and trust that the person behind the counter will understand it as code for needing help.

Schools will also set up investigation units, which will be free, confidential, and available to victims. The goal will be to encourage victims to file complaints, as well as to collect testimonies and reports. The units will offer students with legal, medical and psychological assistance.

Despite previous actions by the State to combat sexual assault in France’s universities, the problem has persisted. As a result, in 2021, the Ministry of Higher Education launched the multi-year plan (running until 2025).

The program was given a total budget of €7 million, which has now been doubled to €14 million.

The plan includes 21 measures, several of which were already taken up this past year. The steps are structured around four primary areas: widespread training of staff and students to respond to sexual assault, the reinforcement of reporting mechanisms, communication campaigns to spread awareness about consent and reporting mechanisms, and finally the promotion of student and staff commitment to combat sexual assault and gender-based violence on campuses.

In June, the public prosecutor’s office for Evry (Essonne) told AFP that it had opened several investigations for rape in the four major French universities of the area, including the renowned establishments of Polytechnique and Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), after receiving “several complaints” of sexual assault.

Sexual assault in France is defined as “any forced sexual contact” and it is punishable by 5 years of imprisonment and a €75,000 fine (Article 222-27 of the Penal Code)”

Neighbouring Spain has recently passed a ground-breaking ‘only yes means yes’ law on sexual consent, meaning that consent must be affirmative and cannot be assumed to have been given by default, or by silence. 

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POLITICS

Burkina junta chief denies diplomatic split from France

Burkina Faso's junta leader said on Friday his country had not severed diplomatic ties with France, which he has asked to withdraw its forces, and denied Russian Wagner mercenaries were in the country.

Burkina junta chief denies diplomatic split from France

Former colonial power France had special forces based in the capital Ouagadougou, but its presence had come under intense scrutiny as anti-French sentiment in the region grows, with Paris withdrawing its ambassador to Burkina over the junta’s demands.

“The end of diplomatic agreements, no!” Captain Ibrahim Traore said in a television interview with Burkinabe journalists. “There is no break in diplomatic relations or hatred against a particular state.”

Traore went on to deny that there were mercenaries from the Wagner Group deployed in Burkina Faso, even as the junta has nurtured ties with Moscow.

Wagner, an infamous Russian mercenary group founded in 2014, has been involved in conflicts in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Ukraine.

“We’ve heard everywhere that Wagner is in Ouagadougou,” he said, adding that it was a rumour “created so that everybody would distance themselves from us”.

“We have our Wagner, it is the VDP that we recruit,” he said, referring to the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland civilian auxiliaries. “They are our Wagner.”

He said that “all the people want is their sovereignty, to live with dignity. It doesn’t mean leaving one country for another.”

Paris confirmed last month that its special forces troops, deployed to help fight a years-long jihadist insurgency, would leave within a month.

Bloody conflict

A landlocked country in the heart of West Africa’s Sahel, Burkina Faso is one of the world’s most volatile and impoverished countries.

It has been struggling with a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015. Thousands of civilians, troops and police have been killed, more than two million people have fled their homes, and around 40 percent of the country lies outside the government’s control.

Anger within the military at the mounting toll sparked two coups in 2022, the most recent of which was in September, when 34-year-old Traore seized power.

He is standing by a pledge made by the preceding junta to stage elections for a civilian government by 2024.

After the ruling junta in Mali forced French troops out last year, the army officers running neighbouring Burkina Faso followed suit, asking Paris to empty its garrison.

Under President Emmanuel Macron, France was already drawing down its troops across the Sahel region, which just a few years ago numbered more than 5,000, backed up with fighter jets, helicopters and infantry fighting vehicles.

About 3,000 remain, but the forced departures from Mali and Burkina Faso — as well as the Central African Republic to the south last year — underline how anti-French winds are gathering force.

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