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Sandra Muller: French government advisor on gender violence is 'optimistic' despite court ruling

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Sandra Muller: French government advisor on gender violence is 'optimistic' despite court ruling
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FILE - REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier - Holroyd, Matthew
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A Paris court on Wednesday ordered the woman behind France's "#MeToo" campaign to pay thousands of euros in damages for defaming the man she had accused of sexual harassment.

Sandra Muller, a French journalist who coined the viral hashtag #balancetonporc ("expose your pig") to describe the alleged harassment, was found to have committed an offence in a viral Twitter post.

The court ruled against Muller and ordered her to pay €15,000 in damages to French TV executive Eric Brion, who she had accused of making sexually lewd remarks at a party.

She was also ordered to pay €5,000 euros in legal fees to Brion, to delete the tweet, and to publish the court ruling on her Twitter account.

Muller slammed the verdict as "incomprehensible" and urged women to continue to speak out.

Her lawyer Francis Szpiner told reporters they would appeal the decision, denouncing the ruling as "out of its time" and a "regression".

The growing strength of ‘Me Too’ in France

Muller expressed dismay over the ruling and the size of the damages but insisted she did not regret coining the hashtag.

"The decision is heavy, it is punitive, it is disappointing and, for me, incomprehensible," she told reporters outside the court.

She lamented that the ruling "means that victims who have already spoken out will be demotivated, that those who would like to speak out will have difficulty."

But Natacha Henry, a consultant on gender-based violence for the French government and European Union, told Euronews she remained "very optimistic", despite the court's decision.

"I work on sexual harassment within companies and with various groups of women, and the 'Me too' idea is very strong."

"Although the idea of feminism is not new in France … the feminist movement is now in the public eye and on the side of a majority of people.”

Natacha Henry added that while France has strict laws on sexual harassment, more education is needed.

“Information needs to be provided to a wider audience, as well as professionals, to show that the legal system is there to help victims of sexual harassment.”

'Fear must not win'

Sandra Muller began using the viral hashtag #balancetonporc in October 2017, calling on French women to speak out about sexual violence.

This drew comparisons to the #MeToo movement that began in response to allegations against US film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Muller, who works for a French media industry publication, said she now has trouble finding freelance work since rising to prominence.

"I am stamped with #balancetonporc and not as a journalist," she said. "It is difficult for me now. But I don't regret it. I was carried by a movement of liberating women."

"Fear must not win and I will continue to fight every day," she added.

Eric Brion, a media consultant and former head of TV channel Equidia, acknowledged making inappropriate remarks for which he had apologised by text message the day after.

But he argued that Muller's post wrongly portrayed him as a sex offender and the publicity around the incident has ruined his career.

The ruling said that by implying Brion had committed sexual harassment, Muller had used defamatory language as, in legal terms, sexual harassment is characterised as being repeated or entailing the use of force.