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Sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein have reverberated well beyond the United States. In France, women have been denouncing their harassers, as well. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sent us this report. And just to warn you, over the next few minutes, you could hear language that disturbs you.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Emboldened by all the other women coming forward, 28-year-old travel writer Ariane Fornia decided to talk publicly about what happened to her at a Wagner opera when she was still a teenager.
ARIANE FORNIA: I went to the opera in Paris. And a former French minister tried to grope me during the show. He tried to put his hands between my legs. And I had to stop him by digging my nails into his hand.
BEARDSLEY: Fornia says at first she thought the hand on her leg was the mistaken gesture of a doddering, old man until the hand kept coming back and going further up her skirt. At intermission, she found out her harasser was Pierre Joxe, a former justice minister under Socialist President Francois Mitterrand.
FORNIA: I couldn't believe it. This man was a very, very important man, a very powerful man. And I was so shocked to see that somebody who should embody order and security was the one who attacked me.
BEARDSLEY: Fornia says she told her father what happened, and he urged her to go to the police. But her father was a minister in the conservative government. And she was worried no one would believe her accusations against the Socialist Joxe, and they would think her story was politically motivated. Joxe has denied her allegations. Lise Bouvet is writing a book about the impunity of powerful men. She compares what's happening today with social media to the Arab Spring. She calls it the Women's Spring.
LISE BOUVET: This is so huge. We have so many - so many - tweets. I think this time, society and men had no other choices than to listen to us.
BEARDSLEY: Bouvet says the ground for the Weinstein explosion was prepared by previous scandals, particularly the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair in 2011. The then-head of the International Monetary Fund was accused of sexual assault by a New York hotel maid. Though the case was eventually dropped, it encouraged women to start talking about sexual harassment in France. Bouvet says the response is different this time.
BOUVET: Before, women were anonymously reporting on Twitter for catharsis. Now they are pressing charges. The fear and the shame are changing side now.
HENDA AYARI: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: Forty-year-old writer Henda Ayari is one of those pressing charges. She says she was raped by prominent Islamic scholar and Oxford Professor Tariq Ramadan. A second woman is also pressing charges of rape. Ramadan denies either incident occurred.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in French).
BEARDSLEY: Women protested recently in front of the Cinematheque Francaise, which honored the work of French-Polish director Roman Polanski. Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old. Recently, three more women have accused Polanski of raping them as teenagers. He denies the new allegations. Student Clementine Pierlot was angry that the retrospective was being held in Paris.
CLEMENTINE PIERLOT: The message that this event sends is that we don't care about women. We don't care that they have been raped. This man is just a genius, and he can rape anyone he wants.
BEARDSLEY: But operagoer Fornia says there's been a noticeable shift in France. She believes the era of powerful men abusing others with impunity is over now that women are speaking out. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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