Ex-French minister Dati wants tough action on sexism at the top

Former French minister Rachida Dati wants harsher punishments for abusers who exploit their power

Former French minister Rachida Dati on Wednesday urged tougher action against sexual harassment, saying efforts should target powerful abusers rather than "street harassment."

With the issue in the headlines after a string of allegations against disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein going back decades, Dati demanded political efforts targeting "men in power" who she said should face "really heavy" punishment.

"This story (concerning Weinstein), shows as ever how the elites protect their own backs," she told France's BFMTV.

"We criticise those in the suburbs -- those boys who stop girls dressing the way they want. But here we have something much more serious," said Dati, minister of justice under former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy.

"People want to legislate on street harassment. But frankly when someone wolf-whistles you ... you can give him a slap if you want.

"What annoys me is this abuse by powerful men towards women who sometimes have no choice" but to give in, said Dati, a lawmaker in the European Parliament and also active in Parisian politics.

Dati, who has long called for action against sexism and elitism in French politics, also referred to the case of French former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned in 2011 after becoming embroiled in a sexual assault case brought by a hotel maid.

Dati said she was incredulous that widely rumoured allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour had not come to light earlier via the media.

"Weren't journalists aware of his behaviour? Let's be honest, everyone was talking about it.

"Punishments really have to be harsh, very harsh against abusers who use their power or their money,"concluded Dati.

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