Bullying in France

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Since 2014, France increased its anti-bullying efforts as it tries to learn how to stop bullying. Bullying statistics and news reports of the high profile cases about workplace bullying that effects adults, youth bullying, and bullying in French schools, shows the extent of the problem. The history of French law now makes these acts illegal. Prosecutions for workplace bullying and bullying cases under the anti-bullying laws in France are increasing. There are both civil and criminal penalties for bullying, depending on the circumstances.

There are no specific laws against bullying in French schools. Each school can set its own policy about what is a bully and if it want to have a nobullying program. The effects of this are a lack of sufficient anti-bullying campaigns for French students. Some schools do little to prevent bullying and even allow it to continue when it occurs, which causes many negative long term effects.

There are many reasons why people bully in France. One of the bullying facts in France is that it often comes from religious bigotry or the bullying is political. Anti-Semitic bullying and Islamophobic bullying are both huge problems in France.

There are anti-bullying efforts trying to bring awareness to the problems of bullying. One excellent example is a powerful anti-bullying ad released in 2013, which shows what it would be like to experience school bullying at work. However, much more work needs to be done to reduce bullying in France and stop what causes it.

Moral Harassment Law in France

The French Penal Code 222-33-2-1 was amended by a vote of the National Assembly on December 16, 2013, to extend the protection against moral harassment (harcèlement), which is also known as “bullying.”  The French law now prohibits using any repetitive words or behaviors that lead to the deterioration of the physical or mental health of any person.

The definition of harassment includes repetitive:

  • Verbal Insults
  • Physical Threats
  • Obscene Words and/or Gestures

The prohibition of harassment covered if it happens by any means, such as in-person, by emails, SMS text messages, Facebook bullying or using other social media, or telephone calls. The law also covers all situations including bullying at home, at school, or at work. Harassment does not depend on the relationship between the persons. The bully could be anyone, such as another student, a co-worker, a spouse, or the problem could be sibling bullying.

A victim of harassment can file a complaint against a specific perpetrator or against “X” if the perpetrator is to be determined. Information about how and where to file a complaint is available online (English translation).

The penalty for violating this provision of the penal code is a fine of 15,000 Euros and a one-year prison sentence. If the victim is a minor, under 15-years old, or when the violation of the law is committed using Internet bullying, then the penalty doubles under cyberbullying laws. If both online and offline moral harassment occurs, the penalty increases to a fine of 45,000 Euros and three years in prison.

Workplace Bullying in the French News

In July 2016, EuroNews reported that the prosecutor in Paris called for the company of France Telecom and the chief executives of France Telecom to go on trial for office bullying its employees.

The history of the case comes from the large number of employees of France Telecom that committed suicide during 2008 and 2009. The company admits at least 19 employees committed suicide during that time and 12 others attempted suicide. The French unions say the number is closer to 35 people who killed themselves and maybe up to 60 who took their lives over an extended three-year period.

Job-related stress increased at French Telecom with the privatization of the company that caused the loss of thousands of jobs. The use of new technology and company restructuring, combined with a strategy to create anxiety amongst the workers was blamed for the suicides.

The former CEO of French Telecom, Didier Lombard, told other executives at the company, by a written memo, that he would force employees to either leave by the door or by the window. This evidence shows his callous nature about employee suicides. Of course, his lawyers say the charges of workplace bullying have no merit.

Even though the suicide rate amongst the approximately 100,000 French Telecom employees was about the same as the national suicide rate (which Suicide.org says is 18 per 100,000 people in France), many employees left suicide notes to blame their despair on the stress caused by working for France Telecom. France Telecom later became the company called Orange in 2013, which is how it continues to operate today.

If a French judge orders the trial to go forward, the BBC says it will be the first trial of such a large company under the French workplace bullying law.

Evidence in the case against France Telecom/Orange reported by the BBC includes:

  • A female senior manager who was 53-years old. She overdosed at work from taking barbiturates after learning of her impending transfer to another part of France for the third time in a single year.
  • A 32-year old female worker who jumped out a window at work in the Paris office of France Telecom.
  • A 53-year old France Telecom worker who committed suicide at home and left behind a note blaming the stress of his job at France Telecom.
  • A technician in the Troyes office of France Telecom who stabbed himself at work.
  • A 57-year old worker who set himself on fire in the parking lot at work in Merignac.

The Guardian reports the story of one employee, Michel, a 51-year old who was a healthy marathon runner and who was passionate about his senior job at France Telecom until it transitioned to become the new company called Orange.

He killed himself on the French holiday of Bastille Day that celebrates the French Revolution. The day he took his life was September 10, 2009, which is during the period that is currently under investigation.

His suicide note said the only reason he killed himself was over the stress from his job and that he was a wreck from suffering due to the policy at his work of “management by terror.” At the time of his death, he had no other worries, no money problems, or family concerns. The pressure from the top of the company to pare down operations caused him to take huge amounts of work home and not be able to sleep.

Michel routinely received messages from his supervisor telling him to look for another job. Executive management at the company did every thing they could to destabilize workers to get them to quit. In order to keep his job, Michel took on a workload that was too difficult to accomplish.

Other examples of the workplace bullying, include complaints by workers in the company call centers that they have to ask permission to go to the restroom and have to write a written explanation for being one-minute late returning to work after lunch.

Other staff alleges rampant bullying occurs at work. Many have been forced move to another city to keep their jobs. Sick leave increased and so did the use of anti-depressant medication by the workers. Even company physicians quit, due to the excessive workloads. Senior staff members found themselves demoted in order to force them to quit. During the period under investigation, many illnesses and worker depression were work-related.

Michel’s suicide shocked his co-workers, because he was such a respected colleague. Over the many years of his working for the company, he received promotions and salary increases. However, along with this came a serious work overload, to the point that he committed suicide to escape the pressure rather than quit his job.

Public outrage for the suicides of Michel and many others, caused by the working conditions at Orange, forced the French government to investigate. Now, it is up to a French judge to decide if the trial for bullying can go forward.

History of the Workplace Bullying Law in France
The European Union started efforts to create safe working conditions in 1989 as noted in a report by the Paris firm of Dechert LLP. In December 1991, a new law in France extended this requirement to provide safe working conditions to include the obligation of the employers to prevent unsafe conditions. The first European law that specifically targeted workplace bullying passed during 1993 in Sweden. In France, discussion of a law to address workplace bullying started during 1998. Finally, a workplace bullying law came into effect in France during 2002 and was extended in 2012.

This Social Modernization law in France created both civil and criminal liability for moral harassment in both the Labor Code and the Penal Code. Under the Labor Code, the penalties are a 15,000 Euros fine and one year in prison. If a conviction happens under Article 222-33-2 of the French Penal Code, the penalties are a fine of 30,000 Euros and two years in prison.

How French Law Tries to Define Workplace Bullying
Under French law, workplace bullying must be more than a single act and consist of multiple acts that aim to create or result in a deterioration of the physical or psychological health of the victim. There is no requirement that the workplace bullying be intentionally harmful, so the bullying may be unintentional.

Workplace bullying happens when working conditions and the working atmosphere is likely to injure the rights, dignity, physical health, or mental health of the victim and/or damage the employee’s professional career.

The French Supreme Court recognizes many acts that are bullying, including:

  • An employee subjected to humiliation
  • Attacking an employee with denigrating statements
  • A victim experiencing a demeaning attitude from a supervisor
  • Ostracism, if it occurs over several days
  • Preventing an employee from doing their work duties

French companies have the legal requirement to do everything possible to prevent bullying in the workplace. When they fail to do this, both the company and its supervisors face potential criminal charges and lawsuits by the victims of workplace bullying.

Bullying of a Whistleblower
During 2015, Reuters reported that a French court ruled a supervisor at UBS bullied a worker, Stephani Gibaud, because she refused to destroy documents that were evidence of tax evasion schemes that UBS used for its clients. The bullying of Ms. Gibaud was a separate case from the investigation of tax evasion.

The French Labor Tribunal ruled that Gibaud was the victim of repetitive psychological bullying. The workplace bullying began in 2008, when Gibaud refused to destroy files as instructed by her boss. The harassment continued until 2012 with her firing for refusing to stay silent about the tax evasion cases.

Gibaud had first-hand knowledge of the illegal activities of UBS because her job was to organize events for wealthy clients as part of the UBS marketing efforts. During the time of her harassment, UBS was under investigation for assisting wealthy French clients to evade taxes from the years between 2004 and 2012.

Gibaud went through a living hell, when she became a whistleblower about the UBS activities, which she documented with quotes in a book she wrote, entitled “The Woman Who Knew Too Much.” Ultimately, Swiss UBS executives faced arrest and UBS had to pay billions of Euros in fines. For the bullying of Ms. Gibaud, UBS paid a fine of 30,000 Euros, which was only 2.6% of the damages she requested.

Kids with Chronic Illnesses or Disabilities Likely to Face Bullying in France

What could be worse than when being a child and having a disability or a chronic illness such as severe allergies, cerebral palsy, diabetes, or debilitating arthritis? The answer is being bullied, because of being disabled or ill.

A new review of the data from a 2006 study by the World Health Organization of over 12,000 French and Irish children between the ages of 11 to 15-years old, found that 16.6% of the French students had a chronic illness or disability. For those children, 41% of them were victims of bullying when compared to 32% being bullied that were not ill or disabled.

Additionally, if disabled or ill students had characteristics that restricted their participation in school activities, they were 30% more likely to be victims of bullying. Gender of the children made no significant difference in the bullying. Girls and boys who were ill or disabled had the same chances of experiencing bullying.

It is a sad truth that anything that makes a student appear different from other students, also makes them a target for bullying. When a child is already dealing with the difficulties of a disability or a severe illness, the last thing they need is the added pressure and stress caused by being a victim of bullying.

Researchers suggest that anti-bullying intervention efforts need to increase, with more efforts by teachers and school administrators to protect French children with disabilities or chronic illnesses from bullying.

Youth Bullying in the French News
In April 2016, the BBC reported that three teen girls who are from 13 to 15-years old from a small town near Paris, called Creteil, bullied and tortured a 12-year old girl for many months. The teenage girls attacked the younger girl to extort money from her. They burned her with cigarettes, cut her with a knife, dislocated her jaw with blows to her face, and urinated on her.

The young girl kept silent about the abuse because she was afraid she would bring trouble to her family if she told anyone what was happening. The young girl stole money and jewelry from her parents to pay off the attackers. The truth came out, about what was going on, after the girl’s mother found her shaken and bleeding in the street.

This was not a case of middle school bullying or high school bullying, because school officials from the Clement Guyard School, which the young girl attended, said they did not notice any bullying of the girl. This bullying happened off the school grounds. The family decided to move away from the area because of this problem.

Cyberbullying Compared with Offline Bullying in France

Microsoft commissioned a study of cyberbullying in France amongst youth who are eight to 17-years old. Of the children surveyed, 23% said they experienced cyberbullying. The facts about cyberbullying show those who reported being bullied offline were 65% of the students and the students who experienced both online and offline bullying were 72% of the total.

Over two-thirds of the French students said they had experienced some form of bullying. Contrast this figure reported by the students themselves with the “official” French government statistics on bullying saying that one in ten students experience bullying in France. What this indicates is an under-reporting of bullying incidents. This happens when students are silent about the bullying and/or when school administrators ignore the bullying.

The 25-country average for worldwide cyberbullying, found in the Microsoft study, was 37%. This means cyberbullying in France, while significant, is not as bad as it is in other countries.

About half of the French students (54%) say they know about cyberbullying and 48% are worried about it. Of the students who admit to being a bully, 24% say they use cyberbullying attacks and 62% say they bully someone offline. Children who bully someone online are two times as likely to experience online bullying as well.

One third of French parents ask their children if they experience online bullying. Over half of French parents try to help their children deal with cyberbullying. 69% of parents talk about online risks with their children. 51% of French parents monitor computer usage and 53% of parents teach their children online manners.

Only 25% of French schools have formal policies that deal with cyberbullying. Education about online bullying is available for 43% of students, 24% for teachers, and only 2% for parents.

Younger French children, who are eight to 12-years old, experience more offline bullying than cyberbullying (76% versus 55%). As the French children get older, to be between the ages of 13 to 17-years old, they are more likely to use cyberbullying (32% versus 16%).

In France, parents monitor younger children between the ages of eight to 12-years old more closely and place stricter limits on computer usage by younger children. French girls (58%) are more likely than boys (49%) to be under supervision by their parents and to be taught cyber manners by their parents.

How Does France Compare to Other Countries Regarding Cyberbullying?
The rate of cyberbullying in France is lower, compared to other countries. Of the 25 countries in the study, France was twenty-third on the list for cyberbullying. On the other hand, offline bullying in France (62%) is higher than the world’s average (42%).

The parents of French children do a good job trying to protect their children from cyberbullying. France is the third best country after Singapore and Australia that does a good job providing education to students, teachers, and parents about cyberbullying.

Primary Bullying Results in Child’s Death

The story of Noélanie Sené is sad and tragic. A French couple adopted Noélanie when she was 13-months old. She was originally from Polynesia. Because of her heritage, her skin was dark colored.

In 2006, while attending primary school, she became a target of bullying. When her parents complained to the school director, he did nothing about it. They complained to the inspector of schools and the court justice department. However, the bullying continued. Her parents switched her to another school.

In the new school, Noélanie became a target for bullying once again. This time, five children bullied her. One of the bullies was particularly vicious and dangerous.

Noélanie’s parents gave her kung fu lessons and tried to help their daughter as much as they could. Nevertheless, the bullying escalated.

During October 2007, Noélanie wrote a letter to the police and gave a copy to the adult supervisor of the playground, who watched the children during school breaks. In her letter, Noélanie sad the bully attempted to strangle her many times and that she did not have the strength to protect herself from the attacks. She said she feared that the bully is going to kill her and that the bully threatened to come to her home and he knows where she lives. She said, he calls her a filthy black girl and tells her “fuck you.” She says in her letter that she told the teacher, who said she should just to go and play. Neither the school nor the police did anything in response to the letter.

On November 7, 2007, her parents brought a lawsuit against the school director for failing to protect a student in danger. They had medical proof of the injuries Noélanie suffered, as well as a written confession from the bully. The police, once again, failed to act because they assumed Noélanie was mentally ill, since she went to a child psychologist.

On November 16, 2007, Noélanie came home from school with a painful head injury and a neck injury. Her parents rushed her to the emergency room at the hospital, where she died from a cerebral edema (swelling in the brain caused by trauma). She was eight-years old.

Anti-Semitic Bullying of Students in Schools
Parents of students who experience bullying in school need to contact the Parents-Teachers Association of the local school. How a school handles bullying depends on the local school’s policy and the circumstances.

Jewish students in France are afraid to attend the French public schools as reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). JTA says that 30 years ago almost all Jewish families sent their children to the French public schools. In 2016, only one-third of these families send Jewish children to public schools. The reason for this lowered attendance by Jewish pupils in public schools is the dramatic increase in anti-Semitic bullying in public schools.

Now, tens of thousands of Jewish families send their children to expensive private schools that are for Jewish children or run by other religious groups such as Catholics and Protestants. The change is very dramatic in Paris, which has about 65% of the French Jewish population. This is about 350,000 people. In Paris, there are virtually no Jewish children going to public schools.

Ten years ago, serious anti-Semitic bullying in French public schools was minimal with only a few reports each year. Currently, even though there are fewer Jewish students, the anti-Semitic bullying incidents reported in public schools are in the hundreds each year.

Anti-Semitic bullying includes taunts and threats as well as physical violence. The Times of Israel reported that in February 2015, it saw complaints filed because of severe anti-Semitic bullying occurring in two French schools. One bully had a pencil case marked with the words, “Jew = cremated.” He attacked a Jewish student with insults and text messages about Jews and the Nazi death camps. Two other Jew-hating students joined the attacker. The three bullies received suspension from the school for eight days and faced criminal charges in the juvenile court.

At another school in Avignon, a Jewish girl had to leave public school because of the constant anti-Semitic bullying that occurred in person, online, and on her telephone. Once the other girl students found out she was Jewish, they started attacking her. The victim’s parents filed a police report, but the bullying and threats continued, so this forced the girl to leave the school for her own safety.

Another incident reported by JTA happened outside Paris. In 2013, a Jewish student was cornered by a bully calling him a “dirty Jew.” The bully punched him, and threatened him with a knife. Only the intervention of a passer-by saved the child from the knife attack. The police later arrested the bully.

Jihadist Attacks on Jewish Schools

Many of the attacks on Jewish children, and the majority of violent ones, come from people with a Muslim background who are motivated to attack because of Israel’s actions against the Palestinians. This is the basis for a new anti-Semitism movement. In 2012, a Jihadist killed three students and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Because of this incident, it is now common for armed guards to stand in front of these private Jewish schools carrying automatic weapons to protect the children from further attacks.

Anti-Semitic Bullying of Teachers
Teachers suffer anti-Semitic bullying abuse as well. In 2012, a teacher in Lyon was fired after she complained of the abuse she received from the students due to her conversion to the Jewish faith. A teacher in Marseilles suffered an attack with a chemical explosion in the classroom and students told her “Jew, we will break your face.” Two teenagers age 16 and 19 were arrested for that incident.

The bullying of Jewish children and teachers in the French schools has caused many to leave France to immigrate to Israel. In the past few years, more than 20,000 Jewish people left France because of this increasing problem.

Islamophobia in France

A related issue of this ugly bullying epidemic in France is the targeting of Muslim people and children by bullies due to Islamophobia. There is really no difference between bullies targeting Jewish children or Islamic children because of their heritage. Many of these children are too young to understand what is causing this phenomenon. All they know is that they are being bullied for being different.

Marie-Shirine Yener, who created an illustrated guide about how to deal with an Islamophobic bully, said she felt compelled to create the guide because of all the stories she heard from women friends of having their headscarves torn off in the streets, people insulting them, and calling them terrorists because of how they dressed.

Ms. Yener, who is not Muslim, also experiences bullying simply because she looks like she could be Muslim. The response from the Muslim community for her non-aggressive approach to thwart Islamophobic bullies was thankfulness for her understanding the problem. The response from the “haters” was to put Islamophobic insults on her Facebook page, which she promptly deleted.

Ms. Yener wants everyone to know that the Muslims in France are just as horrified by terrorist attacks as everyone else. They could suffer harm too, if they happened to be in the places were the attacks occurred.

Burkini Bullying

The city of Cannes and about 30 other French towns tried to ban the “burkini” for covering up too much skin on the public beaches. The mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, said that wearing a burkini could draw a crowd and disrupt the public order. The Independent reported police bullying that forced women wearing a burkini to disrobe or forced women wearing a burkini to leave the beach and that the police arrested some of them. The French courts over-turned these local rules.

In France, were it is common for women to go topless at the beach and full nudity is soon to be permitted in a public park in Paris, wearing too much, in the way of clothes that cover the body, was considered offensive to some.

Anti-Bullying Efforts in France
Since 2014, the French government began a concerted effort to address the problem of bullying in French schools through new initiatives, increased bullying information, and by establishing a national emergency helpline that children can use to report bullying. The telephone number for this in France is 3020. There is a different number to use to report cyber bullying, which is 088 200 000.

The French government estimates that about 700,000 French students experience bullying at school each year. To fight this problem and to increase awareness, Juvenile Justice in the World reported that the French Minister of Education Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, declared that November 5, 2015, the first national French day of “Non au harcèlement scolaire,” which, in English, means “No to Bullying” day.

In addition to these efforts, the anti-bullying efforts of the French government now include:

  • Anti-bullying communication campaigns
  • Deployment of 250 school counselors to support students
  • Encouraging the students to step forward and speak up about bullying
  • Raising awareness by broadcasting television programs about bullying on children’s channels and on public TV
  • Creating educational materials for teachers and parents
  • Training teachers how to notice bullying and what to do to prevent it from happening
  • Creating student anti-bullying ambassadors
  • Adding 1,500 anti-bullying professional trainers to the educational system

The French government is getting serious in its recent efforts to address the bullying problem in schools. There are more resources to help teachers deal with the issues, understand bullying signs, and how to handle bullying. They are also adding professionals to the system to improve anti-bullying training initiatives on how to detect bullying situations and take measures to reduce them.

Respect Zone
One terrific idea comes from a 14-year old French teenager, Adrien Coen. He founded the non-profit Respect Zone organization with his older brother Nathan. Nathan is studying at an American university in New York City.

Respect Zone offers an iconic label that websites, social media, and electronic communication systems can use to show that they support peaceful free electronic communication and are against cyberbullying in any form.

Before he started the Respect Zone project, Adrien noticed how badly online bullying hurt his friends. He realized the only way to deal with the cyberbullying problem was not to increase policing of kid’s communication with each other or attempt to reduce freedom of speech, but instead it was a better idea to create an educational force that kids could embrace and adopt to encourage better behavior amongst their peers.

Adrien equates the Respect Zone moniker with a “No Smoking” sign that speaks directly to a sense of personal empowerment and awakens kindness. The Respect Zone label is a notice to users that hate speech and cyberbullying are not appropriate behavior in those places that display the label.

Having the Respect Zone label on a website or on a social media system means that cyberbullying, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, racism, stigmatism of disabled people or the incitement of hate, terrorism, and/or violence is not welcome.

Launched in 2015, during the Paris Games Week (a video games convention), Respect Zone immediately gained national prominence. It has the support of the YouTube star in France called Cyprien, with his 7 million followers.

Respect Zone has been featured on television and radio programs and many online publications. The label is in use by major companies and popular websites.

The motivation is to generate a self-regulatory effort to increase peaceful communication online by setting a respectful example on the Internet and popularize that effort.

Those who place the Respect Zone label on a website or electronic communication system agree to the following tenets:

  1. Respect for Others – Creating and publishing content, both online and offline, which recognizes the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
  2. Self-Moderation of Statements and Content – Agreeing not to publish or support any content that is cyberbullying or promotes violence, such as content that incites hate, terrorism, or violence or  content that is anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, racist, and/or discriminatory because of origin, belief, religion, or disability.
  3. Moderation of Content from Others – Immediate removal of content placed by others, such as comments that violate rule number two.
  4. Use the Respect Zone label in a prominent way with a link to www.respectzone.org and not use the label in any unauthorized manner.

The Respect Zone project has the support of many organizations and was presented to the United Nations. This project is being widely accepted by youth internationally to help stop bullying and to take a strong stand against cyberbullying.

Summary

They types of bullying in France are severe and occur at work, at school, and in public places. The prejudice and bigotry directed at Jewish people and Muslims is representative of the larger global problems. The Washington Post notes that France has more terrorist attacks than any other European country, so bullying based on Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia is not going away anytime soon.

One type of bullying that is less prominent in France is LGBT bullying. This is because the French government introduced lessons about gay issues in primary schools during 2012, which had a positive impact on reducing LGBT bullying and associated teen suicides by LGBT teens in France. This fact, along with the wonderful Respect Zone movement that started in France, gives hope for future improvements in the reduction in bullying in France.

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